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October 31, 2010

Pentagon Denies Report of Plan for US Military Teams in Yemen

by Al Pessin

A Pentagon spokesman on Monday denied a report in The Wall Street Journal  newspaper that says the Obama administration is working on a plan to send U.S. military teams to Yemen to attack terrorist targets.  

The newspaper report says the apparent attempt to bring down planes with mail bombs last week has added urgency to a review that could lead to expanded U.S. military operations in Yemen.  The report says there is "growing support" in the military and among civilian officials to allow Special Operations teams to work secretly in Yemen, under CIA command.

But Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reacted to the story this way:

"There is nobody in a leadership position in the Defense Department who has given any serious consideration to the proposal outlined in that article," said Whitman.

Whitman said no major change to U.S. aid to Yemen is being considered.  He added that the security incidents provide a reason to review global counter-terrorism measures.

"This, you know, obviously gives everyone, first and foremost the government of Yemen as well as the United States and all those countries that were affected by this event - where planes flew to and things like that - an opportunity to reassess and evaluate whether or not there are other things that need to be done, can be done," he said.

Whitman said the Yemeni government "should be commended" for its counter-terrorism efforts, particularly in recent months.  He said the United States is working with the government in Yemen to address security and counterterrorism concerns as well as the country's "political, economic and social challenges."  

According to Pentagon figures, U.S. aid to Yemen has increased sharply in recent years.  But former top U.S. Homeland Security and intelligence official Charles Allen says that in Yemen, results will be slow in coming.

"We've known about this, we've worked this [terrorism in Yemen]," said Allen. "We've given aid and assistance in counterterrorism training to the government of Yemen and to its security forces and helped them develop special forces capabilities.  It's just going to be a long, hard push, though, to get the kind of results out of Yemen that we really need in order to make not only the Middle East, but also the rest of the Western world more secure."

Authorities in Yemen are searching for the suspected bomb-maker - Ibrahim Hasan al-Asiri - who U.S. officials say is a member of al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen.