U.S. Embassy Marines in Yemen destroyed all of their weapons as they evacuated the country with diplomatic personnel under orders from the State Department, the Marine Corps said in a statement Wednesday night.
"To be clear, no Marine handed a weapon to a Houthi, or had one taken from him," the Marines said in the statement distributed by the Pentagon.
Earlier Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, said that the Embassy Marines had destroyed their crew-served weapons at the Embassy but had "left behind" their personal weapons such as M-9 pistols and M-4 carbines at the airport in the capital city of Sanaa.
"The Marine Security Force left the American embassy in Yemen for the movement to the airfield as part of the 'ordered departure' with only personal weapons. All crew-served weapons were destroyed at the Embassy prior to movement. None of them were 'handed over' in any way to anyone," the Marine Corps said.
"Upon arrival at the airfield, all personal weapons were rendered inoperable in accordance with advance planning," the statement said. "Specifically, each bolt was removed from its weapons body and rendered inoperable by smashing with sledgehammers. The weapons' bodies, minus the bolts, were then separately smashed with sledgehammers."
CNN, citing Yemeni employees of the U.S. Embassy, reported that Embassy officials also destroyed tens of thousands of documents before leaving for the airport.
However, Pentagon officials said that several Embassy vehicles were left behind in the evacuation. At a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the evacuation took place in a "delicate situation" and that the Yemenis were responsible for maintaining any equipment left behind.
"I certainly would use this opportunity to reiterate the responsibility that the Yemeni government and that the Houthi rebels have in ensuring the protection of diplomatic property and other equipment that was left behind," Earnest said.
The Embassy Marines and the diplomatic personnel left the Sanaa airport on a civilian flight to the neighboring country of Oman.
"We are certainly grateful to the government of Oman, that provided critically important assistance to ensure that that temporary relocation was executed safely," Earnest said. Earlier, Pentagon officials had declined to disclose the destination of the evacuation flight but said that the Embassy Marines were remaining in the region.
The Embassy evacuation and the convoy to the airport were "orderly, uneventful and organized," Col. Warren said earlier. The evacuation took place amid what Western reporters in Sanaa described as relative calm in the city despite protests for and against the Houthis.
Earnest and Warren also said that an undisclosed number U.S, Special Operations troops remained in Yemen for possible training of the crumbling Yemeni military and counter-terror missions.
The U.S., British and other embassies were closed and their personnel were evacuated as the Houthi rebels took over country at the southern end of the Red Sea. France urged all of its citizens to leave Yemen and said the French Embassy would close on Friday.
The central government in Yemen collapsed in January following the Houthi takeover of Sanaa. Yemen had been a U.S. ally in the fight against the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terror group.
The Houthis, who practice Shiite Islam and reportedly are funded by Iran, are also enemies of AQAP but have publicly expressed opposition to U.S. drone strikes against AQAP. However, the Houthis have as yet made no moves to stop the drone strikes.
Earnest said that U.S. military personnel were still on the ground in Yemen and "are coordinating with their counterparts in Yemen, in the Yemeni government, and continuing to carry out the kinds of actions -- the counter-terrorism actions that are necessary to protect the American people and our interests around the world."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.