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Pentagon Backs Off Petraeus News of Doubling Yemen Military Aid

  • Al Pessin

General David Petraeus (file photo)

General David Petraeus (file photo)

The U.S. Defense Department says it has not yet determined how much military aid to provide to Yemen this year, to help the country fight terrorism and build its armed forces. That contradicts a statement last Friday by General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

General Petraeus made news Friday answering a reporter's question about U.S. military aid to Yemen, which is fighting several terrorist groups, including one that may have been behind the attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.

"We have, it's well known, about $70 million in security assistance last year," said General Petraeus. "That will more than double this coming year."

General Petraeus spoke during a visit to Iraq, and he traveled from there to Yemen for meetings with top officials on how to deal with terrorist activity in the country.

But on Monday, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. government has not yet determined how much military aid to give Yemen this year, including funds from its 1206 account, which are designated for counter-terrorism assistance.

"Without knowing precisely what General Petraeus might have been referring to, I am only speaking to right now the 1206 Building Partnership Capacity [funds]," said Bryan Whitman. "And I have to tell you at this point that those funding levels by country have not yet been determined."

U.S. counter-terrorism aid to Yemen last year was a record $67 million. That's 22 percent of the total $300 million the United States distributed through the program worldwide in 2009. This year, the global amount is increasing to $350 million.

Yemen was frozen out of the program in 2008 due to a dispute between the Bush Administration and Yemen's government.

Whitman says such aid, as well as the sale of military equipment and special financing for military purchases, have complex criteria, which are only now being evaluated for the fiscal year that began in October.

"If you're looking for me to try to project for you for any given country where various levels of assistance might end up, I can't do that for you," he said. "We have to let those processes run their course."

Still, Whitman acknowledges that the U.S. government is actively looking at how to help Yemen and many other countries fight terrorism. Improving friendly militaries worldwide has long been a priority, in order to enable them to prevent terrorist groups from recruiting or establishing bases on their territory.

General Petraeus said Friday there has been good cooperation with Yemen on terrorism issues.

"There has been sharing of intelligence, of information, and so forth, two-way street because the intelligence sources of Yemen are very, very good, as well," he said. "And the operations that were carried out in December were very significant."

The Pentagon says the United States also provides helicopter parts, communications equipment, patrol boats, trucks and maintenance training to Yemen's military.

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