The general’s remarks on CNN’s “Amanpour” show yesterday come as focus on al-Qaida’s presence in Yemen has increased after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound U.S. flight allegedly by a Nigerian who received training and explosives from terrorists in Yemen.
“Last year, it was somewhere around $70 million,” the commander of U.S. Central Command said of U.S. counterterrorism funding to Yemen. “Over the course of this fiscal year, it should be somewhere around $150 million or more.”
Following the alleged botched attack by Farouk Abdulmutallab on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Transportation Security Agency cited Yemen, which began receiving U.S. counterterrorism funding in 2006, as one of 14 “countries of interest.” The identification places passengers with links to the country under greater scrutiny as the United States ratchets up security at domestic and partnering airports.
On the heels of a recent trip to Yemen, Petraeus said the United States does not intend to deploy military forces there, adding that Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi has made clear that Yemen does not want American troops on the ground.
“We would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself,” Petraeus said of the intended U.S. approach. “We want to help. We’re providing assistance.”
In a separate interview that aired on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed the message that the United States does not intend to deploy troops to Yemen.
“Right now, as far as any kind of boots on the ground there, with respect to the United States, that’s just not a possibility,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said.
Yemen has long been considered a refuge for jihadists, providing a home to Mujahidin fighters returning from fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Site of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 Americans in 2000, Yemen’s radical Islamic presence returned to the spotlight earlier last year when it was revealed that Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the alleged perpetrator of the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13, had links to a firebrand cleric residing in Yemen.
The United States increased so-called 1206 funding to Yemen from $4.6 million in fiscal 2006 to $26 million the following year; no such counterterrorism assistance was allocated in 2008. American aid last year provided Yemen with radios, helicopter spare parts, trucks, patrol boats, and maintenance training, military officials said.
Despite internal challenges that include a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south, Yemen has made security improvements with regard to combating terrorism, both Petraeus and Mullen said.
Asked whether the Yemeni government is as committed to fighting al-Qaida as it is to the other problems within its borders, Petraeus said, “Time will tell, but we have certainly seen significant commitment over the course of recent months, in particular.”