The fiscal 2010 budget provides additional funds for the United States to help build the capacity of foreign militaries and security forces, including Yemen’s, to deal with terrorism within their borders, Morrell told reporters.
Yemen received $67 million in so-called 1206 funds during fiscal 2009, he noted. In addition, it received about $2.8 million in foreign military financing, as well as about $1 million in international military education and training and about $400,000 for a counterterrorism fellowship program.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, has pressed to increase that amount to prevent Yemen from becoming a new terrorist safe haven.
“We’re looking for any and all means possible that we can be supportive of the Yemeni government and their armed forces as they step up to the plate in a very concerted fashion, and in a very aggressive and brave fashion to take on this threat within their midst,” Morrell said. “We’re clearly encouraged by the fact that the Yemeni government seems extremely committed to dealing with this.”
Morrell called the failed Christmas Day attack, and the suicide attack last week that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan the most visible recent reminders of the extent of the threat.
“There clearly is a real terrorist threat that still exists. Whether it be al-Qaida or its affiliates, they remain very much a threat to the American people and our allies around the world,” he said.
“And that is why we still have 110,000 forces in Iraq… [and will soon have] 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and [why] we have forces deployed around the world in support of the war on terror” launched after the 9/11 attacks, Morrell said.
“Whether it be in Iraq or Afghanistan or in operations taking place in other parts of the world, we are doing things in a very offensive manner to try to prevent any other attack taking place on our country again,” he said. “We have taken the fight to the terrorists – as the president said — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in any number of countries around the world, sometimes directly, sometimes in support of our friends and allies, working by, with and through our partners around the world.”
Morrell cited progress against al-Qaida in various parts of the world, most notably in Iraq, where violence is down dramatically despite isolated high-profile attacks. U.S. Forces Iraq yesterday suffered its first combat casualty since November, and combat deaths during the past six months have dipped to 14. That compares to a high of about 100 casualties per month in mid-2007, he noted.
“There is no question that al-Qaida in Iraq has been severely debilitated, and that they are having to husband their resources and execute attacks on a much-less-frequent basis than they would prefer,” he said.
Yet al-Qaida remains a threat, Morrell emphasized. “So we cannot let down our guard. We cannot for a minute pause to pat ourselves on the back with regards to the progress that has clearly been made,” he said. “We have to continue to keep the fight up. And that’s what our forces and this building [the Pentagon] is committed to doing.”
Morrell conceded that the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated. However, he said there’s a “high degree of confidence that we will turn the tide there against the Taliban, al-Qaida and other associated extremists there within the coming months” as 30,000 additional U.S. troops pour into the country.