Yemeni protesters try to break into the U.S. embassy in Sanaa on Sept. 13. The U.S. quickly dispatched a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team to safeguard the embassy compound, U.S. diplomats, employees and their families. That platoon returned to its home base, Naval Support Activity Bahrain, on Jan. 1, and has been replaced with a second FAST platoon. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
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The beginning of the new year has been marked by the presence of a new Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team in Yemen.
The 50 or so members of Charlie Six Platoon, Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company, Central Command, from Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, have replaced Charlie Five Platoon in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
During its 111-day deployment, Charlie Five Platoon helped secure the embassy compound and also trained Yemeni security forces in sound tactics and strategies to prevent violent protesters from reaching U.S. facilities.
The FAST Marines deployed to Yemen in mid-September after protesters stormed the embassy in reaction to the You Tube posting of a movie trailer mocking the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. The movie was created by amateur filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, an Egyptian Coptic Christian residing in the U.S.
Yemeni security forces struggled to hold back the crowd of 2,000 protestors, intent to march on the embassy, and resorted to firing tear gas and live rounds into the agitated crowd. After they arrived, the Marines trained about 50 Yemeni security guards assigned to protect the U.S. Embassy and conducted advanced urban combat classes for 1st Law Enforcement Platoon, a Yemeni unit that protects embassy employees and their dependents.
When they returned to Bahrain on Jan. 1, they were greeted by Vice Adm. John Miller, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, who lauded their performance.
"I cannot explain to you how reassuring it is for someone who is in an embassy that needs help, to hear that there are Marines ready to go," Miller is quoted as saying in a Navy news release. "We put you in a situation where your professionalism had to be absolutely exceptional in order for us to be successful. I want to personally thank you and congratulate you on a job done extremely well."
The Arab Spring, which began in North Africa and spread into the Gulf, Syria and Jordan, has been marked by two years of turmoil as anti-government protestors aimed to topple authoritarian regimes. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah ceded power in the spring of 2011. But while some countries have returned to relative calm, Yemen continues to simmer and has been particularly vexing for U.S leaders.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group's branch in Yemen is known, is considered by Washington to be one of the terrorist organization's most dangerous branches. Over the past few years, it has been bolstering its operations there after key Saudi operatives arrived following a major crackdown in Saudi Arabia. The franchise has been blamed for directing a string of unsuccessful bomb plots on U.S. soil from its hideouts. Those included a foiled plan to down a U.S.-bound airliner using a new, sophisticated explosive to be hidden in the bomber's underwear, and a plot to send mail bombs on planes to the U.S. hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers.
In response, the U.S. has stepped up its drone war, carrying out 42 airstrikes last year — four in one week of December — against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, according to statistics gathered by the Long War Journal.
AQAP overran entire towns and villages in 2011, taking advantage of the security lapses leading up to the collapse of the government. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen's army was able to regain control of the southern region, but al-Qaida militants continue to launch deadly attacks on security forces that have killed hundreds
While the Marines' presence has helped secure U.S. diplomatic facilities, it has done little to curb AQAP's bold threats against diplomatic personnel. The group has offered large bounties, including $160,000 in gold to anyone who kills U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, and $23,000 to anyone able to kill an American service member in the country.