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U.S. ups military aid to Yemen

WASHINGTON — The secretive U.S. airstrike against suspected al-Qaida in Yemen members last week is the latest in what has been a fast-growing campaign to better equip and fund Yemeni forces so they can eliminate the expanding al-Qaida safe havens there.

The Pentagon has poured nearly $70 million in military aid to Yemen this year, a massive financial infusion compared with none in 2008.

Much like the effort with Pakistan's Frontier Corps, the military has boosted its counterterrorism training for Yemeni forces, and is providing more intelligence, which probably includes surveillance by unmanned drones, according to U.S. officials and analysts.

The training sessions are generally small-scale events that last a few weeks, and the number of military trainers in the country has fluctuated over time, said a senior defense official. The official said the counterterrorism training has varied from ground combat to air and maritime instruction.

The heightened attention comes at a politically sensitive time, as the United States and Yemen continue talks on the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees in the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba back to their homeland. The transfer is critical to President Obama's pledge to shut down Guantanamo, but U.S. leaders are not convinced that Yemen is prepared to handle the detainees, or that they won't simply be set free.

Information about any spike in U.S. involvement, including last week's strike that missed a key al-Qaida leader but killed others, is closely guarded by Yemeni authorities, who fear that a visible American role in the country will fuel internal conflicts.

As a result, observers can only whisper about Americans coming and going at an increasing rate from a military base in northwest Yemen, or the sightings of new aircraft and drones in the skies above.

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