Political Analysis

Pentagon confirms U.S. talks with Yemen’s Houthis

National Yemen

U.S. officials are holding discussions with representatives of the Shiite militia in Yemen who have forced the resignation of the country’s president, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

But the discussions with the Houthi militiamen do not amount to an agreement to share intelligence on al-Qaeda in Yemen, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

“Given the political uncertainty, it’s fair to say that U.S. government officials are in communication with various parties in Yemen about what is a very fluid and complex political situation,” Kirby said.

“It is also accurate to say that the Huthis, as participants in … these events, will certainly have reason to want to speak to international partners and the international community about their intentions and about how this process is going to unfold,” he said.

“The U.S. government is participating in those discussions.”

But asked if the Americans and Huthis were sharing intelligence on the movements of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Kirby said: “There’s no intelligence sharing regimen with the Huthis. There’s no formal agreement to do that, and you need those kinds of formal agreements in order to be able to do that.”

Washington has vowed to keep up its fight against AQAP despite the turmoil gripping Yemen, where Western-backed President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has stepped down after the militia seized the presidential palace.

The United States conducted a drone strike on Monday, killing three suspected Al-Qaeda militants, a tribal source told AFP.

Washington has long relied on Yemen’s government to help it target al-Qaeda extremists and a small contingent of U.S. special forces is deployed to the country to help its army battle AQAP, which U.S. intelligence officials view as the most dangerous branch of the jihadist network.

But U.S. officials are worried that the counter-terrorism and intelligence operations in Yemen will be jeopardized by the upheaval unfolding in Sanaa.

Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said last week at an Atlantic Council event that it was unclear if the aim of the Houthi militia “is to take over the state as much as it is to exercise influence and refashion it in a way that they think is more aligned with their interests.”