In the latest sign of Washington’s deepening involvement in Yemen’s battle against an al-Qaeda affiliate, the U.S. military is preparing to give more than $100 million in counterterrorism and security aid to the Arabian country this year, according to newly obtained documents.
The U.S. government suspended military assistance to Yemen more than a year ago in response to then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s suppression of mass protests and other challenges to his 33-year rule.
In the aftermath of Saleh’s resignation in February and an easing of the country’s political crisis, the Obama administration notified Congress last month that it intends to resume military aid to Yemen. The aid is restricted for use by Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, which are locked in a struggle with an al-Qaeda affiliate that has also targeted the United States.
In June, the Pentagon told lawmakers that it would give $75 million worth of small arms, ammunition, vehicles, hand-launched surveillance drones and other equipment to Yemen’s Interior Ministry.
New documents show that the military aid will be more extensive. This month the Pentagon notified Congress that it would give Yemen an additional $37 million for its U.S.-trained special operations units. Included in that package are two small troop-transport aircraft, 100 night-vision devices, five small “raiding” boats for commandos as well as more small arms and ammunition.
The additional aid to Yemen was first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg News.
U.S. military trainers returned to Yemen in May after a year-long absence due to the suspension of security assistance. The Pentagon has declined to specify how many trainers are in Yemen, but officials have said the number is a few dozen.
U.S. intelligence officials have described al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch — known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — as the leading terrorist threat to the United States, especially in the aftermath of the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan.
In May of this year, the Obama administration said the CIA and intelligence agencies from Saudi Arabia and Yemen had thwarted a plot by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner.
Officials described the bombing plan as an updated version of previous efforts by the al-Qaeda faction to blow up transatlantic flights, including a failed December 2009 attempt by an operative to detonate a bomb he was carrying in his underwear.
In addition to the aid to Yemen, the Pentagon this month notified Congress that it plans to give about $84 million in counterterrorism and security assistance to several African countries to counter al-Qaeda affiliates and other militant groups.
The bulk of that amount will go to Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti as part of their international security force in war-torn Somalia, where they are fighting al-Shabab, a radical Islamist faction aligned with al-Qaeda.
Uganda will also receive $22.5 million for “logistics support” in its effort to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal guerrilla group. About 100 U.S. Special Operations troops were deployed to central Africa in October to help forces from Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo combat the LRA and its messianic leader, Joseph Kony.