TIME Military

U.S. Resumes Weapons Flow to Egypt

An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo
Yannis Behrakis / Reuters A U.S.-built Egyptian F-16 flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters in Tahrir square in Cairo in January 2011.

But the White House announcement wasn't only about weapons

President Obama on Tuesday lifted his nearly two-year ban on shipping American weapons to Egypt, a restriction imposed after its military kicked out its elected government in 2013.

Obama relayed news of the move in a telephone call to Egyptian President (and former Army general) Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. It will allow for the shipment of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M-1 Abrams tank upgrades. The White House added that the Administration will continue to ask Congress to approve $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

CRSU.S. aid to Egypt is overwhelmingly for new weapons, designated “FMF” (“Foreign Military Financing”).

The resumption of arms shipments to Egypt is in keeping with the growth of U.S. arms sales abroad. Major American weapons exports grew by 23% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on March 16. “The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool,” Aude Fleurant, of SIPRI, said when the group released its annual arms-sales accounting. “But in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure.”

The White House announcement wasn’t only about weapons. “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” it said in a statement. And, as the Administration drafts proposed legislation to resume military aid to Egypt, it “will not make the so-called ‘democracy certification’ in that legislation,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

In other words, Egypt remains little more than a military junta now wearing civilian clothes, and the White House won’t pretend otherwise.

All this is what diplomats call a return to the status quo ante—the way things were before. Obama is eager to defeat the militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, defeat Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Libya and Yemen and tamp down Iran’s ambitions—nuclear and otherwise. If he, and the U.S. government, have to cozy up to coup-plotters to achieve that goal, that’s realpolitik.

Cairo has recently suggested it may send ground troops into Yemen to bolster air strikes being carried out there by Saudi Arabia against the Iranian-backed Houthis rebels. Obama is now willing to resume the arms flow to Egypt in hopes of improving relations between the two nations as they join with other countries in a bid to restore stability to the war-racked region.

After nearly 40 years of such aid, the record is not reassuring. “Since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, the United States has provided Egypt with large amounts of military assistance,” the Congressional Research Service reported earlier this month. “U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the treaty—principles that are supposed to be mutually reinforcing.”

TIME Yemen

Arab League Unveils Joint Military Force Amid Yemen Crisis

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, March 29, 2015
Ahmed Abdel Fatah—AP Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 29, 2015

A joint Arab intervention force has been formed to respond to Yemen's Houthi insurgency

(SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt) — A two-day Arab summit ended Sunday with a vow to defeat Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen and the formal unveiling of plans to form a joint Arab intervention force, setting the stage for a potentially dangerous clash between U.S.-allied Arab states and Tehran over influence in the region.

Arab leaders taking turns to address the gathering spoke repeatedly of the threat posed to the region’s Arab identity by what they called moves by “foreign” or “outside parties” to stoke sectarian, ethnic or religious rivalries in Arab states — all thinly-veiled references to Iran, which has in recent years consolidated its hold in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen.

The summit’s final communique made similarly vague references, but the Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, was unequivocal during a news conference later, singling out Iran for what he said was its intervention “in many nations.”

A summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups.

The agreement came as U.S. and other Western diplomats were pushing to meet a Tuesday deadline to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf fear that a nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran will free Iran’s hands to bolster its influence in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority. They believe the air campaign in Yemen and a joint Arab force would empower them to stand up to what they see as Iran’s bullying. The United States has sought to offer reassurances that a nuclear deal does not mean that Washington will abandon them, but they remain skeptical.

The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September. Embattled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally against a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate, first fled to the southern city of Aden before fleeing the country last week as the rebels closed in.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Hadi accused Iran of being behind the Houthi offensive, raising the specter of a regional conflict. Iran and the Houthis deny that Tehran arms the rebel movement, though both acknowledge the Islamic Republic is providing humanitarian and other aid.

On Sunday, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, said the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was also supporting the Houthis. The Saudi-led campaign, he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” is to protect Yemen’s “legitimate government from a group that is allied and supported by Iran and Hezbollah.”

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen’s former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni military officials have said the campaign could pave the way for a possible ground invasion, a development that Egyptian military officials say would likely commence after the airstrikes significantly diminish the military capabilities of the Houthis and their allies.

Yemen’s foreign minister, Riad Yassin, said the air campaign, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, had prevented the rebels from using the weaponry they seized to attack Yemeni cities or to target neighboring Saudi Arabia with missiles. It also stopped Iran’s supply line to the rebels, he told a news conference Sunday.

Military experts will decide when and if a ground operation is needed, Yassin said. “This is a comprehensive operation and (any ground offensive) will depend on the calculations of the military,” he said.

Iran has condemned the airstrikes against its Yemeni allies but so far has not responded with military action, though diplomatic and military officials said Iranian retaliation could not be ruled out.

“Iran for the first time in a very long time is basically seeing a counterattack. The Iranians were not expecting that Gulf monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, would be so bold as to confront this head on,” one Gulf official said.

The Saudi-led airstrikes “tore to pieces their game plan with regard to the Houthis, and they are not going to accept that,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

At the summit’s closing session, Elaraby said the Saudi-led air campaign would continue until all Houthi militias “withdraw and surrender their weapons,” and a strong unified Yemen returns.

“Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution had been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” Elaraby said, reading from the final communique.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the leaders from 22 nations also agreed to create a joint Arab military force whose structure and operational mechanism will be worked out by a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff.

Elaraby said the chiefs of staff would meet within a month and would have an additional three months to work out the details before presenting their proposal to a meeting of the Arab League’s Joint Defense Council. Preparations for the force will be under the auspices of Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco — the former, present and next chairs of the Arab League.

“It is an important resolution given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world,” Elaraby said.

“There is a political will to create this force and not to leave its creation without a firm time frame,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a news conference.

The Egyptian military and security officials have said the proposed force would consist of up to 40,000 elite troops backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor and would be headquartered in either Cairo or Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

However, it is unlikely that all 22 member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

Iraq, whose Shiite government is closely allied with non-Arab and Shiite Iran, has said more time is needed to discuss the proposed force.

Now in its fourth day, the Saudi-led air campaign has pushed Houthi rebels out of contested air bases, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told reporters. Airstrikes hit Houthi targets throughout Sunday, including air defenses, ammunition depots, and heavy weapons and vehicles the rebels had taken from government forces.

“The coalition operations in the coming days will increase pressure on the Houthi militias by targeting them. Whether it’s individual or group movement, there will no longer be any safe place in Yemen for the Houthi militias,” he told a news conference in Riyadh.

On Saturday, he said the strikes had targeted Scud missiles in Yemen, leaving most of their launching pads “devastated,” though he warned that the rebels could have more missiles.

Meanwhile, Pakistan dispatched a plane Sunday to the Yemeni city of Hodeida, to try to evacuate some 500 citizens gathered there, said Shujaat Azim, an adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister. Azim told state-run Pakistan Television more flights would follow as those controlling Yemen’s airports allowed them. Pakistan says some 3,000 of its citizens live in Yemen.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also tweeted Sunday: “We are doing everything to evacuate our people from Yemen at the earliest by all routes — land, sea and air.”

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Why did Saudi Arabia lead airstrikes on the rebels who’ve seized Yemen? The answer isn’t as clear as it seems.

By Frederic Wehrey at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

2. Three black swimmers swept the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA swim championships — and swept away a long-standing stereotype.

By Kavitha Davidson in Bloomberg View

3. Could a Facebook deal to host news content make news brands obsolete?

By Felix Salmon in Fusion

4. A new satellite study reveals the rapid breakdown of Antarctic ice. Low-lying nations should be worried.

By Robert McSweeney in the Carbon Brief

5. Here’s how reproductive health rights for women can help end poverty.

By Valerie Moyer in the Aspen Idea

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Yemen

Why the U.S. Is Fighting Beside Iran in Iraq and Against It in Yemen

An armed member of Houthi militia (R) keeps watch as people gather beside vehicles which were allegedly destroyed by a Saudi air strike, in Sana'a, Yemen on March 26, 2015.
Yahya Arhab—EPA An armed member of Houthi militia keeps watch as people gather beside vehicles which were allegedly destroyed by a Saudi air strike, in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015.

Tehran and Washington share an interest in re-establishing state authority in Iraq, but in Yemen their agendas diverge

Just to set the scene: In Iraq on Wednesday, U.S. warplanes began providing air cover to Iranian-backed militias in Tikrit, in a joint effort against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) coordinated through the Iraqi government. On the same day, 1,200 miles to the south in Yemen, the U.S. was providing guidance to Saudi pilots bombing Shia insurgents who are supported by Iran. So the U.S. was bombing Iran’s enemies in one country, and helping to bomb Iran’s allies in another.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, American and Iranian diplomats were resuming their intense talks about how to contain Tehran’s nuclear program. Both sides insisted the negotiations were confined to matters atomic, nothing else. And that’s a good thing, because the ever-complex Middle East has never looked more so than it does at this moment.

And yet, in an important way, Wednesday’s events are wonderfully clarifying. March 26, 2015 may go down in history as the day that Arab states came out into the open to fight, putting their names and ordnance into a conflict that had been carried out by shadowy armed groups the governments quietly equipped, sheltered and cosseted, previously preserving a deniability that only muddied the situation even further.

Saudi Arabia declared it sent 100 warplanes to strike targets inside Yemen, and now has 150,000 troops standing by at the border. The intervention was backed by nine other nations, and the announced “logistical and intelligence” support of Washington, where the Saudis chose to convene the news conference revealing the campaign. The governments lined up behind the Saudis were all fellow Sunni governments—Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait, several providing planes of their own. Egypt, according to a fresh report, is also preparing to send troops. The only holdout from the Gulf was Oman, which prides itself on maintaining the trust of Iran: the sultan of Oman played the role of mediator when U.S. and Iranian diplomats secretly met there to talk about formally launching the nuclear negotiation.

So the divide is clearly Sunni v. Shia, the same tension that created ISIS and has torn asunder Iraq and Syria. Iran’s foreign minister kindly pointed this out in an interview with Iran’s state-run satellite channel Al-Alam: “We have always warned countries from the region and the West to be careful and not enter shortsighted games and not go in the same direction as al-Qaeda and Daesh,” said Mohammad Javad Zarif, referring to ISIS by its Arabic initials.

The warning was a bit disingenuous, given Iran’s role as overlord of the Shia side of the divide. Tehran has been an essential ally of the Shi’ite-inflected Syrian regime led by President Bashar Assad, and a major player in Iraq, where on Thursday, three of the Shi’ite militias it backs announced they were dropping out of the fight for Tikrit, to protest the new American role in the battle.

In Yemen, Tehran is the primary sponsor of the Houthi tribe, providing training, arms and money. The Houthis were once largely confined to the country’s north, seat of its Zaidi brand of Shi’ism, but in September they took over the capital city of Sana. After linking up with Ali Abdullah Saleh, the longtime Yemeni president who was deposed during the Arab Spring, the Houthis marched on the southern port of Aden, where the elected president, Abed Raggo Mansour Hadi had been holed up before fleeing Yemen by boat ahead of Wednesday’s airstrikes. He was later seen meeting with the Saudi defense minister.

In peace, Yemen is an amazing country to visit. It doesn’t look like anywhere else on Earth, except maybe the illustrations in a storybook. It’s also an ideal example of what happens when a state collapses—or really, never coalesces in the first place. And that lesson really explains what the United States is doing in both Yemen and Iraq.

States were designed to bring coherence to human affairs, first and foremost by monopolizing the use of violence. In Iraq the government of Saddam Hussein used to manage that coherence—albeit brutally. And then the U.S. invasion of 2003 dismantled Iraq’s military, and distributed political power on sectarian lines. Now, in the battle against ISIS, which rushed into the void left by a state that has continued to fail, the U.S. finds itself joining Iran in an effort to re-establish the power of the weak central government in Baghdad. That government is dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ite majority—as well as by Tehran, which does not want chaos on the long border the two countries share.

Yemen, on the other hand, has never really managed to function as a state. It was two countries—plain old Yemen in the north, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south—as recently as 1990, when the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the cleavage to an end. Tribal authority has often trumped the state’s. And the country’s long border is with Saudi Arabia, that seat of Sunni power, and great regional rival of Tehran. Yemen, known as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia” was so close to the Saudi kingdom that the border was not even demarcated until June 2000, in an agreement signed by Saleh.

So the Iranians are not terribly bothered by turmoil in Yemen, especially if the turmoil ends—as it looked like it might—with the Houthis more or less in charge, by dint of their new alliance with Saleh, and the large sections of the Yemeni military that remain loyal to him. But the end is not yet in sight, and in the meantime, al-Qaeda has maintained its most lethal branch in Yemen, and ISIS has been making its mark, claiming responsibility for the March 20 bombings of Shi’ite mosques that killed more than 130 people. The ensuing chaos forced 100 U.S. advisers off the air base from which they operated the drones that searched for al-Qaeda targets.

Those U.S. advisers are likely to return in some form behind elements of the 150,000 Saudi troops on the Yemen border awaiting orders from Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, photographed in his war room surrounded by generals in chocolate chip desert fatigues. The uniforms, pattrened after American combat fatigues, say a lot: First, about where the U.S. is in this fight. “We are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support,” the White House said in a statement. The other use of uniforms? Making clear, for a change, who’s actually fighting.

Read next: Arab Leaders Inch Closer to Creation of Joint Military Force

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Yemen

Saudi Arabia Masses 150,000 Troops to Support Airstrikes in Yemen

An armed man walks on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah—Reuters An armed man walks on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015.

The conflict risks becoming a proxy war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Muslim states

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has mobilized 150,000 troops and some 100 fighter jets to rout Iran-linked fighters that have taken over swathes of neighboring Yemen, a security adviser to the kingdom told NBC News on Thursday.

The adviser, Nawaf Obaid, did not say whether any of Saudi troops had crossed the border into Yemen as part of the kingdom’s military intervention to arrest Yemen’s rapidly deteriorating crisis. But he said Saudi Arabia was in “complete control” of Yemeni airspace after launching airstrikes overnight and started implementing a no-fly zone.

Iran quickly condemned the airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies as “very dangerous” for the region.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Yemen

Iran Calls Saudi Airstrikes in Yemen ‘Dangerous Step’

Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.
Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.

The U.S. is coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes – although many other regional players are involved

SANAA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes Thursday targeting military installations in Yemen held by Shiite rebels who were taking over a key port city in the country’s south and had driven the embattled president to flee by sea, security officials said. Some of the strikes hit positions in the country’s capital, Sanaa.

The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong reaction from Iran which called the operation an “invasion” and a “dangerous step” that will worsen the crisis in the country.

The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units.

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen’s Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported.

On Wednesday President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally, fled Yemen by sea as the rebels started taking over the southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

Egypt also announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” it said in a statement carried by the state news agency.

Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan were also joining the operation, the Saudi Press Agency reported Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Houthis are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s foreign minister, told Saudi’s Al-Hadath TV that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

The Houthis are backed by Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden Wednesday on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

TIME Yemen

President of Yemen Flees by Sea; Saudis Begin Air Strikes

In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.
Wael Qubady—AP In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.

Houthi rebels and their allies moved on Aden, captured its airport and put a bounty on the President's head

(SANAA, Yemen) — President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said. Hours later, Saudi Arabia announced it had begun airstrikes against the Houthi rebels.

The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir said his country had begun airstrikes against the rebels. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

There were indications that others in the region would follow suit: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

In a statement from the state news agency Egypt, too, announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” the statement said.

Arab leaders are expected to meet in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik this weekend for a pre-planned summit, which is now expected to be dominated by the developments in Yemen. It is not clear if Hadi will be able to attend the summit.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

In fighting in Lahj, they captured Hadi’s defense minister, Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and then swept into the nearby al-Annad base, which the U.S. military had left.

The Houthis are backed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV aired pictures of the operation. The dark screen flashed with glaring lights and there was what sounded like machine guns or possibly anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, told Al-Hadath that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden after 3:30 p.m. on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

Saleh said in a speech two weeks ago that Hadi might head for the African country of Djibouti across the gulf, just as leaders of southern Yemen fled.

Officials said Hadi had been preparing for the move since Sunday, when rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi vowed in a fiery speech that his forces will keep advancing south, referring to Hadi as a “puppet” of international powers.

Shortly after Hadi fled his palace in Aden, warplanes targeted presidential forces guarding it. No casualties were reported. By midday, Aden’s airport fell into hands of forces loyal to Saleh based in the city after intense clashes with pro-Hadi militias.

Yemen’s state TV, now controlled by the Houthis, announced a bounty of nearly $100,000 for Hadi’s capture.

The Houthis still face multiple opponents. Sunni tribesmen and local militias are fighting them in many places around Yemen, and the rebels have little support in the south.

Some military units remain loyal to Hadi, although they are severely weakened. Alarmingly, al-Qaida militants have emerged as a powerful force against the rebels, and there are signs of a presence of the even more extremist Islamic State group. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings against the Houthis in Sanaa that killed 137 people.

AQAP is considered the terrorist group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S. bound airlines, although none exploded. U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against AQAP are seriously hampered, with the U.S. Embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated.

Although the Houthis are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with U.S. support. The deeply anti-American rebels have rejected Washington’s overtures, officials say.

Hadi’s exit is a humiliating reversal, coming in large part at the hands of Saleh, the man he replaced in 2012 under a deal that allowed the former leader to remain free.

The atmosphere in Aden was tense, with most schools, government offices, shops and restaurants closed. In the few cafes still open, men watched the news on TV. Looters went through two abandoned army camps, taking weapons and ammunition.

Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, told the rebel-controlled Al-Masirah news channel that their forces were not aiming to occupy the south.

TIME Yemen

Saudis Begin Air Strikes Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen

Vowing to do "anything necessary" to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels

(WASHINGTON) — Saudi Arabia began airstrikes Wednesday against Houthi rebel positions in Yemen, vowing that the Sunni kingdom will do “anything necessary” to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shiite rebels.

The airstrikes campaign was announced at the Saudi embassy in Washington by Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in a rare news conference. Offensive military action by Saudi Arabia is also a rarity, although Saudi Arabia is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria.

There were indications that regional assistance to Yemen was extending beyond Saudi Arabia.

In a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain said they would answer a request from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

The GCC is expected to meet this weekend in Saudi Arabia and Hadi is expected to attend.

Driven weeks ago from the capital by the Houthis, Hadi abandoned the country, leaving on a boat from the southern port of Aden, Yemeni security officials said. His departure came after rebel airstrikes rained down on his troops, a sign that rebels held air superiority and that Hadi’s calls for an international no-fly zone had been disregarded. On the ground, the rebels were advancing toward his position.

Al-Jubeir said the Saudi air operations began at 7 p.m. EDT, and noted he “had never seen militias with air power,” a reference to Iranian deliveries of weaponry to the Houthis.

Loud, house-shaking explosions could be heard in the Yemen capital of Sanaa and fire and smoke could be seen in the night sky, according to an Associated Press correspondent whose home is near the military airbase in the capital.

Al-Jubeir said the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence.” He declined to say whether the Saudi campaign involved U.S. intelligence assistance.

He sadid the Saudis “will do anything necessary” to protect the people of Yemen and “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

Hadi’s departure illustrated how one of the most important American counterterrorism efforts has disintegrated, leaving the country wide open for what could be a deeply destabilizing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi announcement only reinforced that notion.

Three years ago, American officials hailed Hadi’s ascension to power in a U.S.-brokered deal that ended the longtime rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh during the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. Just a few months ago, President Barack Obama was still calling Yemen a counterterrorism success story, even as the CIA warned that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were growing restive in the north of the country.

Now, U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against Yemen’s dangerous al-Qaida affiliate are seriously hampered, with the American embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated from the country over the weekend. Although the Houthis have seized control of much of the country and are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with American support, officials say. Deeply anti-American, the Houthis have rejected U.S. overtures, officials say.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the terror group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S.-bound airlines, although none exploded. The chaos in Yemen will give the group breathing space, American officials acknowledge.

Beyond terrorism, the latest developments in Yemen have worrisome implications for a Middle East already wracked by Sunni-Shia conflict, experts say. Before the airstrikes began, Saudi Arabia bolstered its troop presence along its border with Yemen.

“This is all about Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi vs. Iran,” said Michael Lewis, professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law and a former Navy fighter pilot who watches Yemen closely. The U.S., he said, “can’t be a disinterested observer. Nobody’s going to buy that. What we needed to do was pick a side.”

But the U.S. had made no move to protect the Hadi government as the Houthis advanced, and American officials gave no indication Wednesday that their stance of neutrality had changed. Asked whether the U.S. military had considered trying to rescue Hadi, a senior American official who declined to be quoted answered: “The tinderbox in Yemen is most complicated because of the geopolitics at stake. The U.S., Saudis, Iranians, Houthis, Yemenis, AQAP, ISIL and AQ have equities in the situation and factor into any decision the U.S. makes or doesn’t make.”

As late as Monday, officials insisted the U.S. was still working with Hadi’s government, despite the fact that the president had been forced out of the capital and the parliament dissolved.

“There continues to be ongoing security cooperation between the United States and the national security infrastructure of the Hadi government,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

__

Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Sarah el-Deeb in Cairo and Lolita C. Baldor and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Yemen

Yemen on the Brink of All-Out War as Rebels Move South

People flee after a gunfire on a street in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on March 25, 2015.
Yassir Hassan–AP People flee after a gunfire on a street in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on March 25, 2015

Analysts fear all-out warfare could allow al-Qaeda to grow in strength and stature

Shi‘ite rebel militias forced Yemen’s President to flee the country as they advanced on the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday, in a move that threatens to tip the country into full-scale civil war.

Yemen’s U.S.-backed President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Aden by boat on Wednesday, according to officials cited by the Associated Press. The state television network, now controlled by the Houthi rebels who seized control of the capital in September, announced a $100,000 bounty for Hadi’s capture.

The Houthis are mostly members of a Shi‘ite sect from the country’s north, and their decision to stage an offensive into the south is likely to further inflame tensions between the two regions, which in turn could also provide a recruiting boon for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the extremist group’s Yemen-based affiliate.

“As soon as the Houthis declare victory, then the real fighting will start, which is guerilla resistance across the south,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst in the capital, Sana‘a. “There are big questions that pertain to the survival of Yemen as a unified state.”

The Houthis stormed Sana‘a in September 2014, seeking greater representation in Hadi’s government. The President resigned in January and later fled to Aden to declare a rival government. The rebels are now allied with army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2011 following a pro-democracy uprising in 2011, but was allowed to remain in the country. Late on Wednesday, gunfire could reportedly be heard across the city of Aden as the rebel fighters sought to grain ground there.

The worsening violence in Yemen’s south could also turn into a wider regional conflict. Saudi Arabia moved heavy military equipment to its border with Yemen this week, perhaps out of concern that its neighbor might fall under the influence of Iran, the regional Shi‘ite powerhouse which has reportedly been arming and funding the rebels. Hadi’s government has also appealed for military intervention by other Arab states. The Arab league is set to discuss the plea on Thursday.

The offensive in the south will also empower extremist groups there, analysts say. AQAP, a sworn enemy of the Houthis, which controls territory there, is likely to position itself as the vanguard of resistance to the Houthi presence. Sunni tribes in southern Yemen, who argue that they have been marginalized by the capital since the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990, may be tempted to join the group’s ranks. “AQAP has been pushing a very sectarian narrative. It helps them do recruiting along sectarian lines,” said Adam Baron, a Yemen analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign relations.

That doesn’t bode well for the wider world, either. AQAP is among al-Qaeda’s most lethal franchises, and claimed responsibility in January for the deadly attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. As a result, the Yemeni affiliate has been a recurring target for the U.S. military and foreign intelligence operations, including unmanned drone strikes that have killed civilians, a source of resentment among Yemenis. But the U.S. forces won’t be able to use Yemen as a launchpad for counterterrorism operations any more; Washington evacuated all its personnel from the country on March 21 as conditions deteriorated. That leaves few obstacles to hinder AQAP’s growth.

“All the ingredients are there on the ground for al-Qaeda to grow and flourish and recruit,” said Nadwa al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst. “They will find a lot of recruits among frustrated southern people, southern youths, southern tribes. It’ll get ugly.”

Read next: Yemen Leader Asks U.N. to Back Military Action Against Rebels

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Yemen

Yemeni President Flees as Rebels Take Base Vacated by U.S. Special Forces

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi giving a speech in the capital Sanaa in 2013.
Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi giving a speech in the capital Sanaa in 2013.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels are advancing on Aden

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s embattled president fled his Aden home Wednesday for an undisclosed location as Shiite rebels neared his last refuge, five officials told The Associated Press.

Hadi fled just hours after the rebels’ own television station said they seized an air base where U.S. troops and Europeans advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. That air base is only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, the port city where President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had established a temporary capital.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to brief journalists. Witnesses said they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles Wednesday leaving Hadi’s palace, located at the top of a hill in Aden overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Forces loyal to Hadi had no immediate comment. U.S. and European advisers fled the seized air base days ago after al-Qaida fighters briefly seized a nearby city.

The advance of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, threatens to plunge the Arab world’s poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbors. Already, Hadi has asked the United Nations to authorize a foreign military intervention in the country.

Already, military officials said militias and military units loyal to Hadi had “fragmented,” speeding the rebel advance.

Early Wednesday, the satellite Al-Masirah news channel reported that the Houthis and allied fighters had “secured” the al-Annad air base, the country’s largest. It claimed the base had been looted by both al-Qaida fighters and troops loyal to Hadi.

The reported Houthi takeover of the base took place after hours-long clashes between rival forces around the base. The U.S. recently evacuated some 100 soldiers, including Special Forces commandos, from the base after al-Qaida briefly seized a nearby city. Britain also evacuated soldiers.

The base was crucial in the U.S. drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which America considers to be the most dangerous branch of the terror group. American and European military advisers there also offered logistical in its fight against the al-Qaida group, which holds territory in eastern Yemen and has claimed directed the recent attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

U.S. operations against the militants have been scaled back dramatically amid the chaos in Yemen. U.S. officials have said CIA drone strikes will continue in the country, though there will be fewer of them. The agency’s ability to collect intelligence on the ground in Yemen, while not completely gone, is also much diminished.

The takeover of the base is part of a wider offensive led by Houthis, backed by loyalists of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh within Yemen’s armed forces.

The Houthis, in the aftermath of suicide bombings in Sanaa last week that killed at least 137 people, ordered a general mobilization of its forces. The group’s leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, vowed to send his forces to the south under the context of fighting al-Qaida and militant groups.

The Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September and have been advancing south alongside forces loyal to Saleh.

On Tuesday, Houthi militias and allied forces fired bullets and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in the city of Taiz, known as the gateway to southern Yemen. The Houthis killed six demonstrators and wounded scores more, authorities said.

The Houthis also battled militias loyal to Hadi in the city of al-Dhalea adjacent to Taiz, which is Yemen’s third-largest city. The city also is the birthplace of its 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced Saleh to hand over power to Hadi in a deal brokered by the U.N. and Gulf countries.

Hadi on Tuesday asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize a military intervention “to protect Yemen and to deter the Houthi aggression expected to occur at any hour from now” against Aden and the rest of the south. In a letter to the council’s president, Hadi said he also has asked members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League for immediate help.

Saudi Arabia warned that “if the Houthi coup does not end peacefully, we will take the necessary measures for this crisis to protect the region.”

Diplomatic missions of Hadi’s Arab Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have evacuated their diplomatic staff from Aden over the past few days, officials said. They earlier evacuated from Sanaa and relocated to Aden to support Hadi.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com