U.S.-Yemen security cooperation plagued by mutual suspicion

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

LONDON The United States continues to experience difficulties in achieving military and security cooperation with Yemen.

Western diplomatic sources said Sanaa and Washington still view each other with suspicion amid efforts to engage in military and security cooperation.

The sources said Yemen has withheld important Al Qaida detainees from the United States and has failed to impose safeguards on U.S. military equipment transferred to Sanaa.

The tensions have escalated over the last few weeks amid a series of Yemeni assertions questioned by U.S. officials, Middle East Newsline reported. They concern Yemeni claims that security forces have captured senior Al Qaida operatives, including those connected to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

"The United States has invested a tremendous amount of money, time and equipment in Yemen over the last year," a diplomatic source said. "So far, there is little to show for it except a lot of bad blood."

The sources said Washington has accused Yemen of failing to safeguard U.S. military equipment sent to Sanaa. In some cases, Yemeni military officers have been bribed to transfer ammunition and weapons to Al Qaida operatives. Some of those weapons and explosives were found in Al Qaida strongholds in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Neither Yemen nor the United States has formally reported the transfer of U.S. weapons to Al Qaida. But Yemeni officials have not denied that their U.S. counterparts raised the issue that Yemeni military arsenals with American weapons were pillaged by Al Qaida agents.

Another source of Yemeni-U.S. tensions concerns what Washington feels is the increasing lack of credibility regarding the war against Al Qaida. The diplomatic sources said Yemeni officials issued several statements of the capture of Al Qaida operatives that turned out to be incorrect or baseless.

In December 2003, Yemeni Interior Minister Hussein Deif Allah Al Awadi said security forces arrested a key Al Qaida operative believed involved in the USS Cole strike in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed. Al Awadi said Mohammed Hamdi Al Ahdal was captured in late November.

Al Awadi stressed that Al Ahdal, 32, would not be extradited to any other country, a reference to U.S. requests to interrogate Al Qaida insurgents in Yemen. The diplomatic sources said Sanaa has been slow to provide U.S. interrogators access to Al Qaida agents captured in Yemen.

Al Ahdal has been described as the No. 1 member of Al Qaida in Yemen. His superior was Ali Qaed Sunian Al Harithi, killed in a U.S. Predator unmanned air vehicle attack in November 2002 .

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