Published January 03, 2010
The U.S. does not plan to open a new front in Yemen in the global fight against terrorism despite closing its embassy there in the face of Al Qaeda threats, President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser said Sunday.
"The Yemeni government has demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to Al Qaeda," he said. "They're willing to accept our support. We're providing them everything that they've asked for."
The comments came in the wake of the failed Christmas Day attack against a U.S. airliner by an accused 23-year-old Nigerian who says he received training and instructions from Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
President Obama plans to return from his holiday vacation in Hawaii for a Tuesday meeting at the White House about the airliner plot.
On Sunday, the U.S. and Britain shuttered their embassies in the Yemeni capital, San'a, citing security reasons.
"We're not going to take any chances" with the lives of American diplomats and others at the embassy in Yemen's capital, Brennan said, making the rounds of four Sunday television talk shows. "There are indications Al Qaeda is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of San'a, possibly our embassy."
Brennan said the threat against Americans and Westerners would not ease until Yemen's government got a better handle on the threat from terrorists inside the country. He estimated there are several hundred members of Al Qaeda in Yemen. "We are very concerned about Al Qaeda's continued growth there," he said.
Brennan said the security threat "demonstrates that Al Qaeda is determined to carry out these attacks and we're determined to thwart those attacks."
The U.S. gave Yemen $67 million in training and support under the Pentagon's counterterrorism program last year. Only Pakistan got more, with some $112 million in aid.
Obama said the money had been well spent: "Training camps have been struck, leaders eliminated, plots disrupted. And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know -- you too will be held to account."
The U.S. general who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan told reporters in Baghdad on Friday that U.S. counterterrorism aid to Yemen would more than double in the year ahead. Gen. David Petraeus said Yemen was struggling to overcome many challenges, including declining oil revenues and an insurgency making full use of the country's rugged terrain.
The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for the immediate halt of transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees back to Yemen and other countries where they can return to the battlefield as Al Qaeda affiliates.
"If we don't stop the practice of releasing Gitmo detainees to Yemen or to other countries -- and some of them came through Yemen through Saudi Arabia -- we're asking for even more trouble. I think there ought to be an immediate halt put to releases from Gitmo," Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., told Fox News.
Bond admitted that the Bush administration made a "big mistake" by transferring terrorists back to other countries. He said he hopes the Obama administration will not continue to commit the same mistake.
But Brennan said the Obama administration would continue to release detainees to Yemen on a case-by-case basis.
"The Guantanamo facility must be closed," he said. "It has served as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda. We're determined to close it."
Brennan also weighed in on former Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of the president's anti-terrorism policies, saying Cheney is intentionally misstating Obama's position or is ignorant of the facts.
Last week the former vice president said Obama is "trying to pretend" the U.S. is not at war with terrorists. The result, according to Cheney, is that Americans are less safe.
Brennan said that he has worked for five administrations and that Obama is as determined as anyone to keep the nation safe.
Brennan called Cheney's comments disappointing and said they do not speak well of the former vice president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.