The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. has formed ties with Houthi rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, White House officials and rebel commanders said, in the clearest indication of a shift in the U.S. approach there as it seeks to maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda.
American officials are communicating with Houthi fighters, largely through intermediaries, the officials and commanders have disclosed, to promote a stable political transition as the Houthis gain more power and to ensure Washington can continue its campaign of drone strikes against leaders of the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, officials said.
“We have to take pains not to end up inflaming the situation by inadvertently firing on Houthi fighters,” a senior U.S. official said. “They’re not our military objective. It’s AQAP and we have to stay focused on that.”
Washington’s outreach to the Houthis, who in January routed forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close American ally, represents a contrast from years of U.S. support for the Hadi government, which the Houthis have opposed.
The shift also could place it on the same side as Iran in the Yemen conflict. The Houthis are drawn from their country’s Zaidi population. Zaidis, who by some estimates make up roughly a third of the population, practice a form of Shiite Islam and are concentrated in northwest Yemen. U.S. officials believe the militia has received considerable funding and arms from Shiite-dominated Iran, something Houthi leaders have variously confirmed and denied.
White House and State Department officials confirmed to The Wall Street Journal the contacts with the Houthis, but stressed they were focused on promoting political stability in Yemen and safeguarding the security of Americans. [Continue reading…]