Washington: US special operations forces are expanding their training of the Yemeni military as the Obama administration broadens its programme to counter terrorism in countries reluctant to harbor a visible American military presence.
That balancing act has become an administration trademark, funneling millions of dollars in aid and low-profile military trainers to countries like Pakistan and Yemen in order to take on a more diverse, independent and scattered al-Qaeda network.
The scope and amount of the military training in Yemen has grown slowly, reflecting the Pentagon`s intention to tackle the terror threat while still being sensitive to fears that a larger American footprint in Yemen could help fuel the insurgency.
Over the past year, the number of elite US trainers moving in and out of Yemen has doubled, from 25 to about 50 now. The numbers fluctuate depending on the training schedule, but US forces are now providing a more complex level of instruction that combines tactical ground and air operations.
At stake is the stability of a troubled, poverty-stricken nation struggling to thwart al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who are growing stronger and are increasingly targeting the US and other Western interests.
"Yemen is the model for how we`re going to conduct counter-terrorism in the future," said Rick Nelson, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is not going to be large-scale intervention as it was under the Bush administration and not because it is or isn`t working but because it`s economically
unfeasible" to wage expensive wars.
The US military training there, said one senior defence official, is aimed at fixing shortfalls in the Yemeni military`s aviation, intelligence and tactical operations. And there also is training for the maintenance of aircraft and other systems.
Several US and Yemeni officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the US training effort, which is rarely discussed in public because of its politically sensitive nature.
The careful growth of training by special forces in Yemen mirrors a slow expansion of a Pentagon counter-terror training programme in Pakistan, which officials say serves as a workable road map for building US military relationships with government forces in terrorist strongholds.