WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Tuesday it is sending military trainers back to Yemen for "routine" counterterrorism cooperation with Yemeni security forces amid an intensified battle against an offshoot of the al-Qaida terror network.
"We have begun to reintroduce small numbers of trainers into Yemen," a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, told reporters.
Another American official said the arriving troops are special operations forces, who work under more secretive arrangements than conventional U.S. troops and whose expertise includes training indigenous forces. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly.
Yemen has been a launching pad for attacks against the United States by the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. On Monday, The Associated Press disclosed that the CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design.
Kirby said the return of U.S. military trainers to Yemen was for "routine military-to-military cooperation." He declined to provide details.
A U.S. military training program in Yemen was suspended last year after then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was badly injured in a militant attack. At one point the U.S. had between 100 and 150 trainers there. The new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took over in February, has requested increased U.S. counterterrorist cooperation, including trainers and advisers.
The U.S. also has a substantial naval presence near Yemen. A Marine contingent aboard Navy ships arrived in the area over the weekend on a routine rotation. It includes the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with about 2,000 Marines aboard vessels including the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima. Also in the group is the USS New York, an amphibious transport dock ship that was built with more than seven tons of steel from the World Trade Center. It is the New York's maiden deployment.
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.