Saturday, October 8, 2011

U.S.-Yemen ties strained over fighting terrorism

Sudarsan Raghavan,Karen DeYoung, Washington Post

October 8, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen -- Ties between the United States and Yemen are being strained by a growing disagreement over how to combat the Yemen terrorist group that U.S. officials have called the most potent al Qaeda franchise.

Even as both sides claim credit for the death of U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a U.S. drone strike last Friday, they are sparring over divergent priorities. Senior Yemeni officials accuse the United States of not helping government forces fight opponents, many of whom they say are al Qaeda linked insurgents intent on attacking the West, inside Yemen.

U.S. officials, in turn, express little interest in the insurgency in Yemen and say their counterterrorism efforts are limited to what they describe as a minority of al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate that is focused on U.S. attacks. These officials say they are determined to resist efforts by the government of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to enlist U.S. forces and firepower in a domestic counterinsurgency and draw the United States into Yemen's internal chaos.

The dispute underscores a fundamental dilemma facing the Obama administration. Although it depends on counterterrorism cooperation from the Saleh government to target leaders of the Yemen group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it is seeking Saleh's resignation as part of the pro-democracy Arab Spring.

Interviews with officials from both sides portrayed some elements of the U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism relationship as contentious, at times antagonistic, despite recent public claims by senior American officials that the ties are close. "The American aid is very limited," said Gen. Yahye Saleh, a nephew of the president, who heads Yemen's U.S.-trained counterterrorism units and its powerful Central Security Forces. "Unfortunately, the American side has been paying more attention to the political situation than fighting terrorism."

The tensions come as Yemen's 8-month-old populist revolt has turned increasingly violent, with rival military forces and tribal militias battling each other in Sanaa, the capital, and other cities.

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