US Steps Up 'Largely Clandestine' Action in Yemen

Yemeni Soldiers train in the Sarif area on the eastern outskirts of the capital Sana, in Yemen, January 2010 (Photo: AP)

US Steps Up 'Largely Clandestine' Action in Yemen

US and allies drawn 'ever deeper' into the country

In a report released today, Reuters shows growing US involvement in Yemen moving 'well beyond' the deadly campaign of drone strikes and increasingly into the arena of special forces advisers, military training, and substantial financial aid. US military presence is increasing 'sharply' in Yemen's ongoing battle against Al Qaeda on the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP).

With an estimated several hundred military advisers already deployed, the US is being drawn 'ever deeper' into the country, Reuters shows.

"The United States will continue to intensify its focus on the threats coming from Yemen, while enabling its allies in the region to fight Al Qaeda on the ground," said Juan Zarate, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The US continues to deny the prospect of 'boots on the ground' strategy, or the engagement of US troops in on the ground combat. Instead, Yemen "looks set to be the scene of the kind of largely clandestine, barely publicly discussed U.S. intervention that many believe will be the model for conflicts in the years to come," writes Peter Apps for Reuters.

The steadily increasing 'covert war', however, has brought "a marked radicalization of the local population" and is "driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States," the Washington Post reported this week.

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Reuters: As violence rises, U.S. and allies pulled into Yemen

Western security and intelligence officials have long seen Yemen as central to their fight against Islamist militancy, viewing local franchise Al Qaeda on the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) as the most dangerous single foreign group plotting attacks against the West. U.S. officials say the group was behind a thwarted airline attack plot last month, the latest of several such schemes.

But with a new Yemeni government seen providing the best chance in years to stabilize the chaotic country, there are growing signs of a wider strategy. U.S. and foreign involvement is increasing sharply, moving well beyond the long-running but now also intensifying campaign of drone strikes.

Growing numbers of special forces advisers are now training Yemen's military, while financial and humanitarian aid from Western and Gulf states has increased sharply. At last week's "Friends of Yemen" meeting in Riyadh, foreign powers pledged some $4 billion to the country. Britain said the country was at a "critical moment". [...]

Earlier this month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters there was "no prospect" of "boots on the ground" in Yemen. Certainly, with a presidential election a mere five months away and public fatigue with long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is little enthusiasm for a major conventional military campaign. [...]

Signs of success are mixed at best. While Yemeni security forces backed by foreign air strikes have advanced against AQAP strongholds, a brutal suicide attack against security forces in the capital Sanaa last month killed more than 100.

"The attack in the capital last week was certainly not a good sign," says Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, an expert on Al Qaeda and Yemen at the Combating Terrorism Centre at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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