U.S. commandos quietly train Yemeni military.

Soldiers from the anti-terrorism force of the Yemeni Defense Ministry…

Soldiers from the anti-terrorism force of the Yemeni Defense Ministry are training, with U.S. military assistance, to take on a more diverse, independent and scattered al Qaeda network. (Associated Press)

Seldom visible in the Yemeni mountains, the elite U.S. commandos training the Yemen’s military represent the Obama administration’s quest to fight terrorism without inflaming anti-American sentiment.

That balancing act has become an administration trademark, funneling millions of dollars in aid and low-profile military trainers to countries such as 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 terrorism threat while still being sensitive to fears that a larger U.S. footprint in Yemen could help fuel the insurgency.

Over the past year, the number of elite U.S. trainers moving in and out of Yemen has doubled, from 25 to about 50. The numbers fluctuate depending on the training schedule, but U.S. forces now are 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 increasingly are targeting the U.S. and other Western interests.

“Yemen is the model for how we’re going to conduct counterterrorism in the future,” said Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism analyst 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 U.S. has placed unprecedented priority on Yemen, State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin said last week, describing a two-pronged program to root out terrorists while targeting the “incubators for extremism” — such as poverty, weak governance and corruption.

Source: Lolita C. Baldor for the Associated Press.

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