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But remote tribal hideouts and a weak Yemeni government could stymie the US-backed battle.
SANAA, Yemen — Throughout December, fighter jets had swooped over this capital city several times a day on their way to battle the Shiite insurgency in the north. From the rooftops of the Old City, it felt like the war in the north was moving to Sanaa.
But this week, the skies were quiet. The war against Shiite rebels in the north, Yemeni officials say, is winding down, and a new one has begun. The military is has made crushing Al Qaeda its top priority.
“War against them in a very serious manner has started and will continue,” the Yemeni prime deputy minister of foreign affairs, Mohy al-Dhabbi, told GlobalPost. “All the efforts of the country is dedicated now to fighting the terrorists.”
Dhabbi said Yemen expects international support, particularly from the United States, for the battle. “We expect everything, but not soldiers on the soil,” he said.
But despite the brave talk of a military offensive, some question whether the weak and corrupt Yemeni government, even with support from the U.S., can defeat an Al Qaeda organization that can simply seek refuge in remote tribal areas.
Early this week, Al Qaeda threats to embassies, schools and oil companies in Sanaa shut down the U.S., British and several other Western embassies for days. On Monday, attacks outside the capital, which killed two Al Qaeda leaders, thwarted the potential attacks, according to the state-run news, Saba.
Investigators say the Christmas Day plot to blow up a Northwest jet to Detroit was conceived and planned in Yemen by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Yemen risked losing Western support if it did not take measures to restore stabilit. The poorest nation in the Arab world, Yemen is beset with Shiite rebellion in the north, a separatist insurgency in the south, a refugee influx from northern Africa, water shortages and widespread malnutrition.
But international cooperation will likely prove difficult because of corruption and inefficiency in the Yemeni government, said political analyst Ali Saif Hassan. Besides hampering the success of allies, the shortcomings of the Yemeni government hurt its ability to share intelligence.
"U.S. intelligence does not trust Yemeni intelligence," he said. "How can they cooperate?"
Dhabbi, the foreign affairs minister, said that at present there was simply not nearly enough aid.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, on Jan 1. said the U.S. was planning to double about $70 million in aid to Yemen, but the Pentagon has since backed away from that pledge, saying that it did not know how much the U.S. intended to contribute to counterterrorism efforts.
Moreover, some experts say that increasing U.S. presence in Yemen will only serve to draw Islamic extremists.
In Iraq, the Al Qaeda presence was barely detectable before the 2003 invasion, according to the National Security Network, a foreign policy think tank. Since the invasion, however, jihadists have flocked to the war-torn country for the opportunity to attack Americans directly and disrupt U.S. military efforts.