Much was made of the departure of US Marines from Yemen Wednesday, as they completed the evacuation of a embassy in Sanaa. Embassy vehicles were promptly stolen, and the Marines had to surrender their weapons at the airport before being allowed on a civilian flight.

It’s the sort of ignominious retreat hawks always dread, at least on the surface. It’s also cut the CIA presence in the country, since every US Embassy seems to be a hotbed of spies these days. The reality, however, is that the embassy guarding Marines were only a fraction of the overall, ill-documented US military presence in Yemen.

The White House confirmed later Wednesday that irrespective of the embassy evacuation, US military personnel remain on the ground in Yemen for what they refer to as “counter-terrorism efforts.”

Exactly how many troops this is remains unclear, as the administration has been incredibly secretive about their ground operations in Yemen, denying for years that such an operation was even taking place before the Pentagon finally confirmed ground troops were in Aden in March of 2012. Since then, the troops are occasionally referenced, but details are never offered, nor is there any apparent Congressional authorization for ground operations that have been ongoing now for many years.

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