SAN'A, Yemen — As Yemen becomes the new front in the war on terrorism, its leaders want this to be clear: It does not intend to become another Iraq or Afghanistan with thousands of U.S. troops on the ground.
Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi drew some red lines Wednesday in the country's burgeoning alliance with Washington against al-Qaida, telling the Associated Press that Yemen welcomes U.S. and foreign troops for training, intelligence and logistical support.
"But not in any other capacity," he said, adding that there is a lot of sensitivity" among Yemenis about foreign combat troops. He underlined that Yemeni forces would remain under Yemeni command, without any joint authority with the Americans.
His comments came as Yemeni security forces carried out a hunt for Mohammed Ahmed al-Hanaq, the suspected leader of an al-Qaida cell believed to be plotting attacks on the U.S. Embassy or other consulates in Yemen. While troops searched in the mountainous region of Arhab northeast of San'a where he was hiding, officials were negotiating with local tribal sheiks, demanding al-Hanaq's surrender.
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Washington and San'a are still feeling out how far they can go in their newly intensified partnership against al-Qaida, whose fighters have dug into the mountains of this impoverished Arab nation and now, the Obama administration says, present a global threat.
Military personnel from the United States and other Western countries are already on the ground helping train Yemeni counterterrorism units and exchanging intelligence. Washington and Britain are ramping up aid, pouring in tens of millions of dollars to build up the security forces.
Yemen's government has been weakened by wars, poverty and its own misrule and corruption. Central authority barely extends beyond the capital, and heavily armed tribes control large areas. Many tribes are bitter toward San'a, and some give refuge to al-Qaida fighters.