Washington, Dec. 28 (ANI): The United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front, against Al Qaeda in Yemen.
According to the New York Times, the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counter-terrorism experience to that country last year.
Simultaneously, the secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counter-terrorism tactics, senior military officers said.
The Pentagon is spending more than 70 million dollars over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.
As American investigators sought to corroborate the claims of a 23-year-old Nigerian man that Qaeda leaders in Yemen had trained and equipped him to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day, the plot casts a spotlight on the Obama administration's complicated relationship with Yemen.
The country has long been a refuge for jihadists, in part because Yemen's government welcomed returning Islamist fighters who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Qaeda militants have made much more focused efforts to build a base in Yemen in recent years, drawing recruits from throughout the region and mounting more frequent attacks on foreign embassies and other targets.
The White House is seeking to nurture enduring ties with the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and prod him to combat the local Qaeda affiliate, even as his impoverished country grapples with seemingly intractable internal turmoil.
With fears also growing of a resurgent Islamist extremism in nearby Somalia and East Africa, administration officials and American lawmakers said Yemen could become Al Qaeda's next operational and training hub.
American and Yemeni officials said that a pivotal point in the relationship was reached in late summer after separate secret visits to Yemen by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American regional commander, and John O. Brennan, President Obama's counter-terrorism adviser.
President Saleh agreed to expanded overt and covert assistance in response to growing pressure from the United States and Yemen's neighbours, notably Saudi Arabia, from which many Qaeda operatives had fled to Yemen, as well as a rising threat against the country's political inner circle, the officials said.
Al Qaeda's profile in Yemen rose sharply a year ago, when a former Guantanamo Bay detainee from Saudi Arabia, Said Ali al-Shihri, fled to Yemen to join Al Qaeda and appeared in a video posted online. Several other former Guantanamo detainees have also joined the group.
Yemen's remote areas are notoriously lawless, but the country's chaos has worsened in the past two years, as the government struggles with an armed rebellion in the northwest and a rising secessionist movement in the south.
Yemen is running out of oil, and the government's dwindling finances have affected its ability to strike Al Qaeda.
Yemen escalated its campaign against Al Qaeda with major airstrikes on Dec. 17 and last Thursday that killed more than 60 militants.
American officials have been coy about the role of the United States in the strikes, saying that they have provided intelligence and "firepower" for the efforts. (ANI)