WASHINGTON — The United States is sharply increasing military and economic aid to Yemen, as it has been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to fight a growing threat from Al-Qaeda, officials said Wednesday.
The threat has been highlighted by the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who reportedly confessed to being trained by an Al-Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen for his alleged mission to blow up a US-bound jet over Detroit.
"To a certain extent you can argue that the airline incident on Christmas day brought attention, public attention to Yemen," a senior State Department official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
But "certainly within this government and certainly other governments around the world... we have been quite sensitive to what's happening in Yemen," the official said.
"Over the last year or so, there has been a renewed focus on what can we do, how can we really speed up the (aid) process," the official said.
In the 2010 fiscal year, US development and security assistance to Yemen is expected to rise to 63 million dollars from a total of 40.3 million dollars in the 2009 fiscal year, said Darby Holladay, a State Department spokesman.
"This amount represents a 56 percent increase over FY-2009 and a 225 percent increase over FY-2008 levels," Holladay told AFP.
"Development assistance works to address some of the conditions that terrorists exploit for recruitment," he said in an email exchange.
Holladay said the funds do not include so-called 1206 counterterrorism funds, which are programmed during the year.
"No determination has been made as to the use of these funds in 2010. In 2009, Yemen was authorized 67 million dollars in equipment and assistance via 1206 funds to support its counterterrorist and border control forces."
The Pentagon, through the 1206 funds, has been helping Yemen since 2006 to train and equip its forces, including providing them with radios, helicopter spare parts, trucks and patrol boats, according to Bryan Whitman, a spokesman.
In 2006, such funds amounted to only 4.6 million dollars, he said.
Based on the trend, such military aid appears set to increase in the coming year.
Both countries are also sharing intelligence and the United States is widely suspected of having helped Yemeni forces conduct air strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in the last few weeks.
US media have also reported that US special forces have been training their Yemeni counterparts.
The senior State Department official said providing aid is all the more urgent as Yemen, the poorest Arab country, tackles dire economic problems in addition to increasing attacks from Al-Qaeda and a Shiite rebellion.
The United States is running programs aimed at increasing jobs, helping farmers, building schools and improving health care for Yemenis who lack adequate services in remote regions, according to the official.
"One of the reasons Al-Qaeda has been able to function in Yemen is because the government has not necessarily had control of areas, that it has not had the resources and the ability... to deliver the services," the official said.
The official acknowledged that it was easier to deliver services in Afghanistan because US and other troops were deployed to ensure security, which is often not the case in Yemen.
"One of the challenges that we as donors have had, as other donors have had in Yemen, is that there are certain areas of the country that are frankly no-go zones," added the official.
The official said the United States is consulting with its European allies and Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors about ways to "mobilize assistance" but added Yemen needs to take steps to ensure the money is spent appropriately.
The official acknowledged that not all of the 4.7 billion dollars in aid pledged for Yemen during a conference in London in 2006 has been delivered amid doubts about accountability in Yemen.
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