By Mohamed Sudam and Firouz Sedarat
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 6:40 PM
SANAA, YEMEN - Yemen's government said Saturday that it plans to set up special anti-terrorism forces in four of its restless provinces to fight al-Qaeda's resurgent regional wing, which has become a focus of Western security concerns.
The announcement came a day after the United States said that President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser had pressed Yemen to step up its efforts against the militant group.
The elite units are to be established in the provinces of Shabwa, Abyan, Hadramout and Maarib and will be trained to confront al-Qaeda and help "eradicate the scourge of terrorism," the Yemeni Interior Ministry said on its Web site.
On Friday, the White House said that John O. Brennan, an Obama aide at the center of U.S. intelligence efforts to thwart attacks by militants, had spoken with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh the day before.
Brennan called to "emphasize the importance of taking forceful action against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in order to thwart its plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen as well as in other countries, including in the U.S. homeland," the White House said.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, has emerged as a major international security concern since it asserted responsibility for last December's botched attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound aircraft.
Brennan said last week that U.S.-Yemeni relations had been strained by U.S. officials' desire for a quicker pace of economic and political reforms, which they hope would slow recruitment by militants in the impoverished Arab country.
Relations have also been tested by WikiLeaks' disclosure of State Department cables alleging that Saleh had offered to mask U.S. strikes in Yemen against al-Qaeda targets.
The fight against al-Qaeda suffered in 2009 when Yemen's government diverted a counterterrorism unit, which was funded and trained by the United States and Britain, to its war against Shiite rebels, according to other leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.