US 'concerned' over Qaeda attacks in Yemen: Pentagon

The United States is "very concerned" about the latest deadly attack by Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, but believes the government will survive the assault, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

More than 100 government soldiers have been killed in fighting after suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen attacked military posts in Yemen's south on Sunday, medical officials in Yemen said.

"We view Yemen as a very important partner on counter-terrorism efforts and we're also very concerned about the clashes that have taken place there, to include AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) advances in certain parts in the country," press secretary George Little told reporters, referring to Al-Qaeda's branch in the region.

It was vital to maintain military pressure on the Al-Qaeda network in Yemen, he said.

"AQAP is a group that has targeted the Yemeni government and Yemeni civilians for quite a long time and it's important we keep up the pressure on them," he said.

But Little said the Yemeni government has long faced a challenge from the Al-Qaeda network and its hold on power was not under serious threat.

"I think it's important to put this into some context. The Yemeni government has faced challenges in certain parts of the country for some time so I wouldn't necessarily read anything at this point into the stability of the Yemeni government," he said.

"We're going to continue to work with them," he said.

US officials are closely watching events in Yemen after Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down last week after 33 years as president. The new president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, pledged to destroy the Al-Qaeda militant group in last month's inauguration speech.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Monday the United States "strongly condemns" the attack, in a statement issued by her spokeswoman.

"We extend our deepest condolences to the friends and loved ones of the victims of this heinous attack, which illustrates AQAP's complete disregard for human life," Clinton said.

"The United States will continue to support President Hadi and the Yemeni people as they work to realize their aspirations for a brighter and more prosperous future."

Earlier, her spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US would "continue to provide security and counterterrorism support to counter the immediate threats of violent extremism as well as to deliver humanitarian, economic and technical support."

"Yemen has set itself on a two-year democratic transition course. So it's very important that we do what we can to support Yemen in maintaining security and stability during this period," Nuland said.

Yemen's local Al-Qaeda branch, the self-proclaimed Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), has exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied anti-Saleh protests that eventually forced him to cede power.

In recent years, the US Defense Department has provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and training designed to help Yemen's special forces counter Al-Qaeda.

The equipment has included aircraft, helicopters with night-vision cameras, sniper rifles, secure radios and bullet-proof jackets, according to the Congressional Research Service, a research arm of the US Congress.

by Stephen Collinson © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Mar 6, 2012