- - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The U.S. Navy has deployed the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group off the coast of Yemen as the situation in Yemen deteriorates. While in the region, the ships’ mission is to ensure that shipping lanes through the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea remain unhindered. This move comes at a time when the Saudi-led alliance against the Iranian-backed Houthis intensify their military campaign in the wake of the fall of the capital Sana’a and ousted President Hadi’s refuge in Aden.

Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its fleet will not provide direct combat support in aid of the Saudi airstrike campaign. The other ships in the Carrier Strike Group include the USS Normandy Aegis missile cruiser, three Arleigh Burke class destroyers, two mine-sweepers, a dock landing ship, and three amphibious assault ships with a complement of 2,200 Marines.

Reports that Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon, stated that the Carrier Strike Group was there to intercept Iranian arms shipments to the Houthis have been denied by Col. Steve Warren himself. That said, White House spokesman Josh Earnest cited evidence that the Iranians were supplying the Houthis with arms. Such evidence was covered on Free Fire last week.

With Iran intensifying their anti-Western rhetoric, we can be assured that Iran does not plan to back down in Yemen. Ayatollah Khamenei recently made an address to Iranian military commanders where he blamed the United States for propagating fear of Iranian nuclear weapons and interventions in the Middle East intended to destabilize the region. The ayatollah also criticized the US for supporting the Saudi “oppressors” in Yemen. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, openly rejected the possibility of any inspections of military sites, stating: “This subject is treasonous and selling out the country, and if anyone speaks of it we will respond with hot lead.” Spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, also stated that IAEA inspectors would not be allowed to inspect the Parchin military base, suspected of being a center for Iran’s nuclear weapons progra: “They (the IAEA) have been raising the issue for years. It is important for their propaganda. They know we will not allow them to visit the Parchin base again, but they think raising the issue benefits the propaganda.”

Gen. Salami’s braggadocio is not to be left unmatched by the Saudis, however. Just today, Saudi King Salman ordered the National Guard, Saudi Arabia’s best equipped and trained ground troops, to take part in the war against the Houthis. The National Guard are also notable as they do not follow the same chain of command as the regular Saudi military, instead being made of tribal elements loyal to the House of Saud.

With Yemen unraveling in spite of the air campaign, the Saudis are likely needing a skilled force that they can trust on the ground.

Sean MacCormac is a research analyst at the Center for Security Policy.

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