The UK evacuated its diplomatic staff from Yemen on Wednesday morning and shut its embassy as security continued to deteriorate across the war-torn country.
The announcement came minutes after the US said it had also closed its embassy in the capital Sana’a, which is now in the hands of Shia rebels.
Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, said: “The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days.
“Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk. We have therefore decided to withdraw diplomatic staff and temporarily suspend the operations of the British Embassy in Sana’a.
“Our ambassador and diplomatic staff have left Yemen this morning and will return to the UK.”
He also urged any remaining British nationals to leave immediately.
American officials said the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, was in the Red Sea off Yemen, and ready to assist with evacuation if needed.
Yemen has been in crisis for months, with Iran-linked Houthi rebels besieging the capital and then taking control.
Last week, they said they had dissolved the country’s parliament and were forming a five-member presidential council to replace President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Only a few hours before the evacuation was announced, Britain’s ambassador to Sana’a had suggested diplomats were not convinced by assurances given by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, who heads the Houthi rebels, that embassies would be protected.
Twitter: Jane Marriott – Abdul Malik said Embassies should be safe: many Embassies have had an incident of some kind in the last three weeks.
The country is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most active branches of the global Sunni Islamist group.
The United States has long used drones to attack the militants, a strategy critics say has failed to make a decisive difference and stoked anti-American sentiment.
A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged Yemen’s political unrest had affected its counter-terrorism capabilities but said it was still training some Yemeni forces and could carry out operations inside the country against al-Qaeda militants.
“As I stand here today, we continue to conduct some training. We continue to have the capability – unilaterally if need be – of conducting counter-terrorism operations inside Yemen,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby.
In September, Barack Obama had cited his Yemen strategy as a model for counter-terrorism operations elsewhere, such as against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. But Yemen’s slide further into chaos has seen his words ridiculed.