Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US military is looking at how to bolster Yemen's security forces amid growing concern over Al-Qaeda's foothold in the country.
"I think in terms of training and so on there are things that we can do to help the Yemenis and strengthen their capabilities," Gates said. "I think it's fair to say we're exploring with them a variety of possibilities along those lines," he said. Gates offered no details about what kind of assistance was on the horizon, but said, "The primary focus would be on training."
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed credit for a foiled air cargo bomb plot last month suspected of targeting the United States and Yemen has come under renewed pressure from Washington to take on the militants.
AQAP also has been accused of plotting other attacks, including a failed attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The air cargo bomb plot has fed speculation the United States may opt to expand missile strikes against militant figures in Yemen, similar to its drone raids in Pakistan, or even direct US special forces to hunt down AQAP extremists.
But Gates said the US military's assistance would be delivered in cooperation with Yemen. "I think that we have to do this in partnership with the Yemeni government," he said.
The US military currently oversees a 155-million-dollar program to bolster Yemen's counter-terrorism campaign, providing helicopters, equipment and training by US special forces. US officials are considering increasing military assistance to Yemen, but critics have warned that the impoverished country could unravel without more development aid.