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Military Aid to Yemen Doubles as U.S. Aims to Boost Fight Against Al-Qaeda

The U.S. Defense Department said it will finish spending $155 million by the end of September on equipment to help Yemen’s army commandos fight al-Qaeda, more than double last year’s military aid to that country.

The Pentagon notified Congress it plans to pay for four Huey helicopters made by Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit, upgrades to 10 Russian-made MI-17 helicopters already owned by Yemen, 50 AM General LLC Hummer vehicles, night-vision goggles and transport aircraft, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

The $155 million in military aid for this fiscal year is up from $67 million provided to Yemen in fiscal 2009. The biggest cost is $82.8 million for the Hueys and MI-17 improvements to let the Yemeni Air Force “transport small counter-terror units for day or nighttime operations at high altitude,” said the Pentagon spokesman, Navy Commander Robert Mehal.

Yemen has increased operations against al-Qaeda since December, with air and land operations using commandos and conventional troops. Yemeni troops killed 12 al-Qaeda fighters during the past two days as the army sought to flush militants from the southern city of Loder, the state news agency SABA reported, citing Deputy Interior Minister Saleh al-Zuari.

The counter-terrorism funds are part of a Yemen aid plan by the Obama administration that also will increase development assistance and seek to boost international support, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

More security aid to President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s government “effectively gives the U.S. military the access it needs to combat al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the short term while boosting the capabilities of Yemen’s security forces over the long run,” research service analyst Jeremy Sharp said in e-mail.

‘Expectations of Cooperation’

“Politically, it demonstrates the seriousness of our intent with expectations of cooperation in return,” Sharp said. “The question is how sustainable it is over time.”

The $155 million also includes $34.5 million to provide Yemeni special forces with Hummers, combat radio systems and night-vision goggles, Mehal said.

New U.S. Central Command commander General James Mattis said in congressional testimony on July 27 that challenges from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as local insurgents and a deteriorating economy, have stretched Yemen’s government and military “to the breaking point.”

Saleh “has managed these crises through negotiation and by co-opting his opponents, but there are signs his ability to exert control is waning,” Mattis stated.

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for a Dec. 25 plot in the U.S., in which Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight carrying 278 passengers as it landed in Detroit.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

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