Report: American Equipment, Documents Fall Into Hands of Iran-Backed Rebels in Yemen

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen captured secret American documents and then passed that information along to Iran, a report by the Los Angeles Times revealed today. The news comes amid significant gains by the Houthis, including the capture of an air base used by United States forces, as well as forcing the U.S.-backed president to flee into hiding once again.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of the capital of Sana last September and later toppled the U.S.-backed president.

For American intelligence networks in Yemen, the damage has been severe. Until recently, U.S. forces deployed in Yemen had worked closely with President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to track and kill Al Qaeda operatives, and President Obama hailed Yemen six months ago as a model for counter-terrorism operations.

American intelligence assets were previously believed compromised when the Houthis “took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau,” according to American officials who spoke to the Times.

In addition to the intelligence assets that were compromised, much of the American military equipment that had been shared with Yemen is now in Iranian hands, according to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a high-ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff said that “the Houthis may have captured a ‘significant portion’ of the $500 million in military equipment that the U.S. has given Hadi’s government since 2010.”

“The news from Yemen is all bad,” Schiff said. “I have to think that given the magnitude of the support we have given and the rapidity with which large portions of Yemen fell to Houthis, that a significant portion of military support is now in the hands of people who are not our friends.”

An air base in Yemen that was used by the United States in its counter-terrorism efforts was captured by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, The New York Times reported today. The rebels are advancing towards Yemen’s southern port of Aden, where the U.S.-backed Yemeni president, Abbed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, had fled after the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa.

A satellite television network linked to the Houthi movement announced in the morning that its fighters had seized the base, Al Anad, north of Aden, and found it empty and looted. The Houthis said they had also captured two senior officials loyal to Mr. Hadi, including the defense minister. But those reports could not be confirmed.

Warplanes struck a location in Aden near Mr. Hadi’s compound around midday, and antiaircraft guns returned fire. Several news reports said that Mr. Hadi had left his home in Aden, possibly for fear of such an attack. There were conflicting reports early Wednesday about whether he had left the country as well, although few believe his departure would end the factional fighting.

The antiaircraft fire from the ground indicated that Mr. Hadi’s forces had not abandoned Aden. A television network controlled by the Houthis announced a $100,000 bounty for Mr. Hadi’s capture.

As the chaos aggravated by the Houthi offensive has spread, Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has amassed forces on its southern border with Yemen, though the intent of the buildup remains unclear.

The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes, two U.S. government sources said. Two other U.S. officials said the build-up appeared to be defensive.

One U.S. government source described the size of the Saudi buildup on Yemen’s border as “significant” and said the Saudis could be preparing air strikes to defend Hadi if the Houthis attack his refuge in the southern seaport of Aden.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington had acquired intelligence about the Saudi build-up. But there was no immediate word on the precise location near the border or the exact size of the force deployed.

Reuters is also reporting that the Arab League will consider calling for military intervention against the Houthis.

The Arab League will discuss the crisis in Yemen on Thursday, the regional body’s deputy secretary general said, after the country’s foreign minister called on Arab states to intervene militarily to halt an advance by the Shi’ite Houthi militia.

“Yemen’s foreign minister proposed the idea today … in a meeting with the Arab League Secretary General,” Ahmed Ben Hilli, told Al Arabiya Al Hadath television channel, on Wednesday.

“The issue will be presented tomorrow at foreign minister level.”

Hadi had sent a request to the United Nations Security Council earlier this week asking the council to support “military action by ‘willing countries’ to combat the Houthis’ advance.”

Earlier today the State Department confirmed that Hadi had fled his residence but would not give further details about his whereabouts.

In an interview with Bloomberg View yesterday, Rep. Ed Royce (R – Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, attributed Iran’s regional aggressiveness to sanctions relief.

[Rep. Ed] Royce said that even before the negotiations began, when the U.S. unfroze some Iranian assets at the end of 2013, ambassadors for Gulf countries predicted the cash would be used to destabilize the region: “We’re seeing today what every Gulf ambassador predicted Iran would do, we’re seeing Iran destabilize the region.”

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