The United States has asked Yemen to allow Marines to take part in a hunt for members of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, a Western diplomat and Yemeni officials said Tuesday.

Yemeni forces launched attacks against armed tribesmen in remote hills of central and eastern Yemen on Dec. 18 in an attempt to capture suspected operatives of bin Laden.

Since the operation began, 24 soldiers and six tribesmen have been killed. Security officials have said five suspects remain at large.

The sweep in Yemen appeared to be the most serious military operation yet by an Arab country against Al Qaeda, the network of bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror strikes on the United States.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition he not be further identified, said that besides the request that Marines be allowed to join the chase, the United States has proposed setting up a joint task force in Yemen that would includes officials from the CIA and other agencies to coordinate operations.

Yemeni officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the government has received the U.S. request and was considering it.

The U.S. Embassy in the capital San`a was closed Tuesday for Christmas. And calls to a Pentagon duty officer seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The United States blames Al Qaeda for the Sept. 11 terror strikes on New York and Washington and a deadly October 2000 attack on a U.S. destroyer that was refueling in Yemen's port of Aden. U.S. officials have pressed the Yemeni government to crack down on the network's cells in the country.