WASHINGTON (AFP) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday the United States wanted to help Yemen battle Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country instead of entering “another war.”
Providing equipment and training to Yemeni security forces offered the best way to counter the threat posed by Al-Qaeda militants, Gates said.
“We don’t need another war,” he told a conference organized by The Wall Street Journal newspaper.
With more than 100,000 US troops fighting Al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan and public skepticism in Yemen over the US military’s role there, Gates and other US officials have stressed that Sanaa will lead the fight against Islamist militants.
He said the threat posed by the Al-Qaeda network had spread beyond northwest Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia and the Maghreb in northern Africa, and Washington was working to train and arm security forces to fight the militants.
“What we have seen is that as we have brought pressure on Al-Qaeda in North Waziristan, the terrorist movement has metastasized in many ways,” he said.
“Our biggest tools particularly with respect to Yemen are the partnership capacity of the Yemenis themselves, and enabling them to go after these guys,” he said.
He said the Yemenis “have shown a willingness” to take the fight to the militants.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed credit for a foiled air cargo bomb plot last month suspected of targeting the United States, and Yemen has come under renewed pressure from Washington to take on the militants.
AQAP also has been accused of plotting other attacks, including a failed attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
The recent air cargo bomb plot has fed speculation the United States may opt to expand missile strikes against militant figures in Yemen, similar to its drone raids in Pakistan, or even direct US Special Forces to hunt down AQAP extremists.
Gates said earlier this month that US military assistance needed to be delivered in cooperation with Yemen, without mentioning the reported missile strikes.
The US military currently oversees a 155-million-dollar program to bolster Yemen’s counter-terrorism campaign, providing helicopters, equipment and training by US Special Forces.