The State Department on Thursday pulled some of its diplomats out of Yemen and advised Americans already there to depart quickly, as the country plunged deeper into turmoil with rebels in control of the capital, Sanaa.
Though the U.S. Embassy in Yemen remains open for the time being, the State Department said concerns over the worsening security situation led to the decision to make what it termed a “temporary reduction” in the levels of U.S. government workers there.
“We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution and in response to recent political developments and the changing, unpredictable security situation in Yemen,” the department said in a statement.
In a separate travel warning, the State Department sounded a more dire note, calling the threat level in Yemen “extremely high.” It cited ongoing demonstrations around the country with the potential to turn violent and cautioned that diplomatic personnel — restricted to only parts of the capital — would have a limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
The warning urged Americans planning to visit Yemen to stay away and said U.S. citizens living in Yemen should leave the country as soon as possible.
The travel warning specifically mentioned the threat of kidnappings, violent crime and terrorist attacks on American citizens and companies by groups such as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The warning did not, however, mention either the U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamist groups in Syria or the ongoing drone campaign the United States has been waging against militants in Yemen. Though dozens of suspected al-Qaeda militants have been killed, many in the region say that numerous civilians have also died in drone strikes.
The State Department has previously ordered the departure of American diplomats in Yemen amid deteriorating security. The embassy closed for almost five weeks this spring after about 65 militants were killed in April in a series of drone strikes in the countryside.