Yemen has rejected any suggestion to deploy American combat forces inside their country, as the US turns more attention to the impoverished Arab nation where Yemeni officials have now said the foiled Christmas Day plane bomber received Al Qaeda training.
A statement to that effect, by Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, highlights the challenges facing the US as it attempts to rout out Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in an allied country that is deeply uneasy about its new starring role in the so-called war on terror.
Speaking to the Associated Press, al-Qirbi said Yemen welcomes American military assistance in the form of training, intelligence, and logistics, “but not in any other capacity,” citing “sensitivity” among Yemenis.
That may also be due in part to the sensitivity of the country’s Islamic conservatives, who hold some sway within the military and upon whom President Ali Abdullah Saleh relies for political support. They may resist close cooperation with the US, says the P.
As a result, while Yemen has embraced U.S. help, Saleh is deeply wary of giving up too much authority or appearing to be a tool of Washington, a charge often leveled by extremists against Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"I'm sure that (the West's) experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be very useful to learn from — that direct intervention complicates things," [Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi] said.
Al-Qirbi is not alone in trying to put the brakes on US intervention in the country. Citing the state news agency Saba, the Washington Post reports that over the weekend, Ali Muhammad al-Anisi, Yemen’s national security chief, said that reports that the country was unstable and a haven for militants were overblown.
Likewise, in response to the decision by the US and other foreign embassies to close on Sunday and Monday due to security concerns, the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying in part “there is nothing to be worried about ... There is no fear for the life of any foreigner or any foreign embassy in the country."
But Republican lawmakers in Washington do not seem convinced. The Agence France-Presse reports that they are pushing for a more assertive US role in Yemen. On Wednesday a group of GOP house members, including Pete Hoekstra and Peter King, sent President Obama a letter which said in part:
"We no longer have confidence that the Yemeni government has the capacity to assist the United States in providing for our nation’s security… We support efforts to strengthen Yemen’s military and think we should build on these existing programs. Recent events only reinforce that Yemen is a country that requires our security assistance.”
But in Yemen, security forces continue their hunt for AQAP fighters in the country’s mountainous regions, where central government authority is weak.
Citing security sources, The Yemen Post reports that “thousands of troops” are deployed to fight “Al Qaeda affiliates” in the provinces of Sana'a, the capital, as well as the northern governorates of Shabwa and Marib, in addition to Abyan governorate in the south.
They appear to have had some success. On Monday, security forces attacked the convoy of local AQAP leader Muhammad Ahmed Al-Haniq, killing two and wounding two others, although he escaped.
The AP adds that negotiations for his arrest are ongoing between the Yemeni government and local tribal leaders who are believed to be sheltering him.
Yemeni security forces arrested on Wednesday three injured militants who were being treated in a hospital in the Raida district of the northern Amran Province, says the Yemen Post, as well as four others accused of sheltering them.
The Christian Science Monitor