Thursday, 2 September 2010

US officials propose more than billion dollars to support Yemen

Source : Wall Street Journal 02/09/2010
WASHINGTON—The U.S. military's Central Command has proposed pumping as much as $1.2 billion over five years into building up Yemen's security forces, a major investment in a shaky government, in a sign of Washington's fears of al Qaeda's growing foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.

The timing and the final funding amount will depend on how supporters of the effort overcome resistance from some officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, who have doubts about Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the ability of his government, seen by many as corrupt, to effectively use a flood of American-taxpayer money.
The threat to the U.S. from al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen has become a priority concern for the Obama administration, fueling a robust internal debate over how to calibrate assistance to address what many officials see as the biggest counterterrorism challenge outside Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Mideast and South Asia, argues a large infusion of cash is necessary to stanch al Qaeda gains and enable Yemen's security forces to conduct more effective counterterrorism operations, U.S. military officials and diplomats say. The money would be used primarily for training and equipment.

But senior U.S. diplomats and experts warn of a widening imbalance between fast-growing U.S. military support and the slow pace of civilian development assistance, which is aimed at peeling away popular support for Islamists. "It tends to encourage a negative perspective in Yemen that all we care about is U.S. security," said a senior U.S. official.

More safeguards are needed, officials say, to ensure U.S. equipment and resources aren't diverted by the Yemeni government to its fight against domestic rivals. In addition to battling the homegrown group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the government in San'a faces rebels to the north and secessionist groups in the south of the country.

U.S. Special Operations teams in Yemen, birthplace of Osama bin Laden's father, already play an expansive role in the country. Some spearhead an effort to track and kill al Qaeda leaders as part of a campaign authorized by President Barack Obama. Other teams run small development projects, a role typically handled by State Department aid officials.

The U.S. military accelerated strikes against Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula following December's failed attempt by the group to blow up a Detroit-bound American airliner.

Over the past nine months, the U.S. military has carried out a handful of missile strikes on alleged al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, according to U.S. officials briefed on the operations. All of the strikes were approved by Washington's then-ambassador to San'a, Stephen Seche, the officials said. Mr. Seche recently returned to Washington.

The White House is now weighing a proposal to add armed, aerial drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency to the arsenal against al Qaeda in Yemen, mirroring the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan.

Tensions between Central Command and the State Department have simmered for months over the size and scope of the U.S. military's security assistance to Mr. Saleh's government, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. officials said Central Command originally floated the idea of a bigger, $1.6 billion package for Yemen, but scaled it back after objections from the State Department and some in the Pentagon.

Mr. Seche and others have argued that Yemen doesn't have the capacity to absorb such large sums, according to officials involved in the deliberations. They also voiced concerns that the Pentagon's plans risked overly militarizing Yemen, and potentially fueling a wider insurgency in the country.

"We can't just throw dollars at Yemen and think it will solve itself," said a U.S. official who has taken part in the Yemen debate. "This is the mistake we've made in efforts to combat the Taliban in Pakistan."

The State Department has been particularly concerned that the large influx of funds to Yemen could be diverted to the government's war against a Shiite group known as the Houthis. The U.S. doesn't believe claims by Yemen and Saudi Arabia that the Houthis are being funded and trained by Iran.

Aid to Yemen under the U.S. government's main counterterrorism program has grown from less than $5 million in fiscal 2006 to more than $155 million in fiscal 2010, the Pentagon said. But that effort has been piecemeal, prompting calls within the military for a more concerted, sustained campaign.

Jeremy Sharp, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service, said the proposed increase was significant in terms of the large dollar amounts involved, but more importantly because "it would send a message that cooperation is expected over a longer time period."

A Pentagon spokesman said the proposal by Central Command is being evaluated as part of the fiscal 2012 budget process in consultation with the State Department. "Any discussion on the outcome of this process would be premature at this time," the spokesman said.

A senior U.S. military official said the Pentagon was taking a close look at how much aid Yemen can accept. "There are times when we don't spend money, when the partner doesn't have the carrying capacity," the senior military official said.

One of the most vocal supporters of aid to Yemen, Gen. David Petraeus, left his position as head of Central Command in July to lead coalition forces in Afghanistan. It is unclear if his successor, Gen. James Mattis, will fight for all of the funds or push for a scaled-back version.

Some at the Pentagon think a one-year to two-year package makes more sense because it could give the U.S. more leverage to encourage Mr. Saleh to remain cooperative.

Oil revenue, a key source of funding for the Yemeni government, has been dwindling, increasing U.S. concerns that Mr. Saleh's government will weaken. "Yemen is already running out of water; they're already running out of oil," said Henry Crumpton, a former counterterrorism chief at the State Department and senior CIA official.

Christopher Boucek, a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said there is danger on relying too heavily on a military solution in Yemen. "It is a lot easier to focus on the counterterrorism side," Mr. Boucek said.

Special Operations teams run several rural development programs in Yemen's tribal areas.They are doing the type of work the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams have done to understand local needs in regions of Iraq and Afghanistan, a congressional official said. Officials said the teams' aid role in Yemen has grown in part because of the U.S. Embassy's stricter travel restrictions for civilian employees. In some cases, USAID officers haven't been out to visit their projects in years.

The State Department recently committed $120 million in development assistance to Yemen over the next three years. That pales in comparison to the aid provided to other countries where counterterrorism is a high priority, such as Pakistan, which has been promised $7.5 billion over five years.

"It's a cycle: Which comes first, security or development? Security has really hampered these efforts," said a Yemeni official, who described civilian development efforts so far as "minimal" compared to military and security expenditures. "That is a problem."

—Jay Solomon contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at

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