Yemeni security employees of the U.S. government have been detained in Sanaa, where the compound that housed the American Embassy was breached by Iran-backed Houthi forces who took over of much of Yemen in 2014, according to the State Department.

The U.S. diplomatic mission suspended operations in 2015, near the start of Yemen’s protracted bloody civil war between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-supported Houthis. The American ambassador and key staff were relocated to Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally in the region.

A spokesperson for the State Department said Thursday that a “majority” of the U.S. Embassy staff that were detained have been released and that Washington was engaging in “unceasing” diplomatic efforts to free the security guards still in custody. It is not clear why the Yemeni employees were detained, and State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that he was not able to say how many were detained.

The State Department also called on Houthi forces to “immediately vacate” the embassy compound and to “return all seized property.” The detained Yemeni employees are security personnel who had been guarding the outside of the facility, according to a State Department official.

Saudi Arabia is staunchly opposed to the Houthi forces and launched a military intervention in 2015, ostensibly seeking to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government to power. The conflict is also a regional one, in which the Saudis and their allies are seeking to prevent Iran from expanding its influence.

Houthi forces have also directly attacked Saudi Arabia, targeting the energy-rich kingdom’s airports and oil production facilities. The Saudi government had imposed a near-total blockade on Yemen, exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. Security Council this week sanctioned three Houthi rebel leaders that it said helped orchestrate attacks on Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s remote Marib province, a stronghold of the internationally backed government. At least 1,700 government troops have been killed in Marib this year as of early October. The Houthis are also believed to have suffered serious casualties.

In February, the Biden administration removed the Houthis from a foreign terrorist watch list and announced the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations, pledging instead to ramp up diplomatic efforts by naming a special envoy to Yemen.

The detentions and compound breach spurred criticism in conservative circles of President Biden’s foreign policies. U.S. “enemies sense weakness when certain people hold office,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) said in a tweet that compared the detentions in Sanaa to events such as the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the deadly 2012 attack on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

Source » washingtonpost