Undiplomatic Banner
17th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 pm

U.S. Embassy in Yemen Attacked


You may not have heard, but the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen was attacked today, apparently by a group known as Islamic Jihad in Yemen.  Reports differ as to whether they are affiliated with al Qaeda.

At least sixteen people — six Yemeni police officers, six of the attackers, and four civilians died as a result of the attack.  None of the Americans or foreign nationals working at the embassy were harmed, but this does represent the second time that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has come under attack.  In March, the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda fired mortars, missing the Embassy and instead hitting a nearby girls’ school.

Here’s what the embassy spokesman said after the attack:

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT/2.15 am ET) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. . . . Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake.

“We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris,” Gliha told CNN.  “From that vantage point, I can’t tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said during his daily briefing today that the attack had the goal of breaching the Embassy’s walls.  Jeff Stein at Spy Talk notes that, given the number of people involved, at least one former intelligence agent thinks that the purpose may have been not to kill those working there but to take hostages, along the lines of what happened in Iran in 1979:

It seems like the team was large enough to do more than just blow something up. Tactically it would have been interesting: Think Tehran-like embassy takeover, in the middle of a presidential election, hostages being executed on live TV.  It would have to be a resolved by an assault, which the Yemenis are not trained to do.

As I’ve said before, I have long believed that Americans fail to understand or appreciate the heroism and courage of our foreign service officers.  The same goes for the foreign nationals who serve so ably in every American post.  As McCormack noted in his briefing today,

People understand, as we’ve seen today, that American personnel serving overseas serve in some dangerous places or places that have the potential to be dangerous. We’ve seen that borne out once again today. But we manage that risk. And we’re not going to take any steps or do anything that we think unduly puts any of our personnel or their family at risk.

Unfortunately, attacks like these will only make our diplomats’ jobs even harder.  After every such incident, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security finds ways to make it harder for terrorists to attack.  That’s a good thing — no one wants to endanger unduly our diplomats — but it also creates a new problem:  it cuts off our diplomats even further from the countries they’re covering.  The reality is that nothing will make our embassies completely safe.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 7:45 pm and is filed under foreign policy, globalization, war & rumors of war. It is tagged under , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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