Soldiers from the anti-terrorism force of the Yemeni Defense Ministry take part in an exercise in a training camp north of the capital San'a, Yemen (File Photo)
Soldiers from the anti-terrorism force of the Yemeni Defense Ministry take part in an exercise in a training camp north of the capital San'a, Yemen (File Photo)

Yemen's Interior Ministry is announcing on its official website Saturday that the government has deployed new anti-terrorism forces to combat al-Qaida in four unsettled provinces to the south of the country.

The Yemeni government announcement that it is stepping up efforts to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) appeared to be steeped in symbolism. It comes exactly one year after a failed attempt by a Nigerian man, recruited by the group, to blow up an airliner bound for the city of Detroit in the United States.

The Yemeni Interior Ministry website, which put out the news, indicated that four separate and well-trained antiterrorism units were being set up to fight al-Qaida in the southern provinces of Shabwa, Abyan, Hadramawt and Marib.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh told a Yemeni government TV program Saturday that the country's armed forces are now well-trained and have taken great strides in recent decades. He said that our armed forces are not what they used to be in the '70s,'80s and '90s, but that their knowledge and competence has grown day after day in the light of their mastering of modern equipment and arms.

The White House announced Friday that President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan had spoken with Mr. Saleh to urge him to "take forceful actions against al-Qaida," and to "thwart its plans to carry out terrorist attacks" in Yemen and elsewhere, including the U.S."

U.S. relations with Yemen in recent weeks have been touchy following disclosure of alleged U.S. State Department cables by the Wikileaks  website claiming that President Saleh had promised to disguise covert U.S. airstrikes in Yemen on al-Qaida targets.

Princeton University Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen argues that the Yemeni government has been under great pressure from the U.S. to "crack down on al-Qaida" and that Brennan's call to President Saleh along with several other factors spurred the Yemeni government to react. "I think all of these things have sort of coalesced and that's why the U.S. is very nervous (and) has been putting pressure on the Yemeni government, and then this is one of the ways the Yemeni government is responding by saying it's deploying four branches to fight al-Qaida in the provinces of Marib, Hadramawt, Abyan and Shabwa," he said.

Johnsen points out that AQAP has also just put out the 14th issue of its internet propaganda magazine in Arabic, which also puts Yemen in a bad light. He adds that many in the U.S. are worried about the October mail-bomb plot and the activities of al-Qaida's notorious explosives expert Ibrahim al Asiri.

"Why the U.S. government is worried about this organization is because it's made a number of threats towards the U.S. in recent years, as well as last Christmas and then just a few months ago in October. .It's shown that it's capable of putting either would-be suicide bombers into the U.S. or putting bombs on planes that are bound for the U.S., and that its actions can match its rhetoric," he said.

U.S. officials also appear to be worried about the terrorist activities of American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al Awlaki.  Awlaki is thought to be hiding in Yemen's Shabwa Province.

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