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US military ready to bolster Yemeni forces: Gates

by Staff Writers
Melbourne (AFP) Nov 7, 2010
Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US military is looking at how to bolster Yemen's security forces amid growing concern over Al-Qaeda's foothold in the country.

"I think in terms of training and so on there are things that we can do to help the Yemenis and strengthen their capabilities," Gates told reporters on his plane Saturday before flying into Melbourne.

"I think it's fair to say we're exploring with them a variety of possibilities along those lines," he said.

Gates offered no details about what kind of assistance was on the horizon, but said: "The primary focus would be on training."

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 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.

But Gates said the US military's assistance would be delivered in cooperation with Yemen.

"I think that we have to do this in partnership with the Yemeni government," he said.

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.

US officials are considering increasing military assistance to Yemen, but critics have warned that the impoverished country could unravel without more development aid.

earlier related report
Mali, Mauritania hold first joint patrols in Al-Qaeda fight
Timbuktu, Mali (AFP) Nov 6, 2010 - The armies of Mali and Mauritania for the first time have set up joint patrols in the northern Mali desert to boost the fight against Al-Qaeda militants, an AFP journalist witnessed Saturday.

Several hundred armed Malian soldiers and vehicles joined Mauritanian troops who arrived last week, close to 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Timbuktu.

"You see, we are brothers, our goal is the same: to ensure the security of our people, to not leave the land to terrorists, preventing the organisation from attacking," a Mauritanian soldier told AFP.

"Today we are in the Malian desert. Tomorrow, together we can, we will go into the Mauritanian desert. The problems of Mali are the problems of Mauritania and the problems of Mauritania are those of Mali, " said a Malian officer.

These joint patrols, the first ever held between the two armies will continue "for as long as it takes," a source close to the two armies told AFP.

Several hundred military vehicles, including armoured cars, are moving around in the area.

The Mauritanian army has conducted several operations in the north of Mali in July and September to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacks on its territory.

Army chiefs of staff from Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Niger met in late September in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, home of their joint command station.

They decided to strengthen the fight against AQIM whose units are very active in the desert area shared by these four states.

The meeting followed shortly after the kidnapping in mid-September of five French nationals along with a Madagascan and a Togolese, who have been transferred to northern Mali where they are still being held.

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