A platoon of U.S. Marines sent to Yemen are on a temporary deployment and their only role will be to protect the American embassy after it was stormed by demonstrators, a senior government official said.
The deployment of foreign troops is a politically sensitive issue for Arab governments who fear such a move could provoke a backlash from Islamist militants.
The Pentagon on Friday said it had sent a platoon of Marines to Yemen after demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy in Sana’a in protest over an anti-Muslim film made in the United States. A Yemeni official confirmed about 50 Marines had arrived.
“Because of the split in the army and the security forces, we allowed a limited number of Marine forces to protect the American embassy only,” Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s media adviser Rajeh Bady told Reuters.
“They are (here) temporarily for a limited amount of time and they will leave Yemen,” he said.
In Iraq, the 2003 U.S. invasion was exploited by al-Qaeda and other militant groups, and bitter memories of the violations committed by U.S. soldiers and contractors during the eight-year occupation are still vivid.
Clips of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ posted on the Internet show an amateurish production portraying the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser.
It provoked an outcry among Muslims, who deem any depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous and triggered violent attacks across the region on embassies in countries including Sudan, Tunisia and Egypt.
On Saturday, Afghanistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a base which U.S. officials said killed two U.S. Marines, saying it was in response to the film.
Four U.S. officials including the ambassador to Libya were killed in the east Libyan city of Benghazi last week after anger over the film boiled over across the region.
Hundreds of Yemeni demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa last week in protest and clashed with security forces.
No embassy staff were hurt, but the mission said it expected more protests against the film and that it would be closing its consular services on Saturday.
Yemen’s Interior Ministry said on its website on Sunday it has arrested 13 suspects involved. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Yemen has been in turmoil since a popular uprising ousted veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh in February. Hadi’s government is trying to re-establish order and unify the army, which is divided between Saleh’s allies and foes.
It faces threats from Islamist militants, southern secessionists and a Shi'ite rebel movement in the north.
A U.S. ally, Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, a group viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden.
Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against suspected al-Qaeda members, backed a military offensive in May to recapture areas of Abyan province.
Militants have struck back with a series of bombings and assassinations.