Retired U.S. Marines flooded the Pentagon with phone calls late Wednesday and early into Thursday morning after learning about embassy evacuation protocol that made their former comrades-in-arms leave their weapons in Yemen.
In the minutes leading up to an organized evacuation from Yemen via commercial airliner Wednesday, a group of Marines huddled together on a tarmac and disabled about 100 high-powered rifles, a senior military official said Wednesday. They left in their wake a pile of busted weapons and several department vehicles, the official said.
Not long after the Marines’ departure, pictures of Houthi rebels clutching the same model rifles appeared on the Internet, sparking rumors the Marines had been too hasty in their departure. Concerns about the Houthi rebels snatching the weaponry even rippled through the Pentagon, prompting officers to make a flurry of phone calls to Defense Department and State Department officials.
Pentagon officials vehemently denied those rumors on Thursday.
“No Marine handed a weapon to a Houthi, or had one taken from him,” said a Marine Corps statement issued late Wednesday evening. “None of them were ‘handed over’ in any way to anyone. The destruction of weapons at the embassy and the airport was carried out in accordance with an approved destruction plan.”
The Marines disposed of their M-9 pistols and M-4 carbines before evacuating the diplomatic personal at the Yemen embassy and left behind several vehicles at the airport in the capital city of Sanaa before departing, said Army Col. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. The Marines destroyed their machine guns and other crew-served weapons before leaving the airport, he said.
The demolition of personal Marine weapons may have resulted from international rules that ban them on civilian flights, Col. Warren said. It is unclear who the directives came from.
Still, many retired and active military personnel are flabbergasted the Marines were made to disarm and destroy their firearms. The Corps prides itself on its weapons, and all recruits are taught and memorize the Rifleman’s Creed which starts with: “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.”
Some retired Marines took to social media and websites to express frustration with what they described as a “blatant blunder” of evacuation procedures.
“Whether a commercial flight or military flight, either way it does not add up,” said Yinon Weiss, a former U.S. Marine and the CEO of RallyPoint, a military community website. “I cannot think of any other time in recent U.S. history that any service member had to destroy their own personal weapons.”
To Mr. Weiss, the peculiar act indicates that the Marines were unwitting participants in “a hasty evacuation” and “under duress.”
“The fact that this happened indicates to me that something went terribly wrong,” he said.
Other former Marines took to his web site to complain.
“I guarantee every single one of those Marines was pissed off and swearing with every swing of those hammers,” one commenter said. “Chartered civilian airline or not, we traveled with weapons without issue.”
The U.S. decided to shutter its embassy in Yemen this week after its central government collapsed at the hands of Houthi rebels. Britain has also closed its embassy and France has urged all of its citizens to leave Yemen, with its embassy closing Friday. Before the Houthi takeover, Yemen had been a key U.S. ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen is the third in an Arab country that has closed since turmoil associated with the Arab spring began in December 2010. The State Department shuttered its embassy in Damascus, Syria, in 2012 amid a surge in violence and bombing attacks on the city. Two years later, in July 2014, the department removed its staff from the Embassy in Tripoli, Libya.
It is unclear whether department officials will ask Marines to repeat the protocol at the next embassy evacuation. Also unclear is whether those officials will return to Yemen and attempt to re-establish a presence there.
Army Maj. Curtis Kellogg, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, defended the actions of those Marines who participated in the embassy evacuation. The Marines, he said, were simply following orders of department officials.
“We find no fault with what they had to do they had to do,” Maj. Kellogg said.
Still, the evacuation reports are not sitting well with retired veterans.
“The only thing I can think of that is more offensive for Marines than abandoning their personal sidearms is desecrating the American flag,” Mr. Weiss said.