WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is pouring new funding into Yemen for weapons and aircraft to help bolster the embattled country's counterterrorism forces, amid growing concerns about Iranian spying and meddling there.
After freezing military aid to Yemen for the past year, as the country was wracked by internal chaos, the Defense Department has now agreed to deliver more than $112 million worth of equipment and military training this year. The assistance includes $75 million approved last month, and another $37.4 million this month.
In documents delivered to Congress, the Pentagon said the latest funding will be used to buy two new twin-engine transport planes, inflatable boats, communications equipment and a variety of guns and ammunition. The $75 million was targeted for counterterrorism improvements, including small unmanned aircraft known as drones, weapons, military construction and training.
U.S. officials began in March began discussing how best to help Yemen as it worked to put its new U.S.-backed government in place. Widespread protests, coupled with pressure from the U.S., led to the ouster of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. And U.S. leaders have said they believe that new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, will be a good partner to the U.S.
The U.S. continues to view the Yemeni-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as a top terror threat, even though the group hasn't surfaced as a main source in any domestic threats for more than a year. One of its key leaders, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last fall.
Al-Awlaki was linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010.
This week, meanwhile, Hadi warned Iran to stop spying in his country, in the wake of claims that an Iranian spy operation had been uncovered.
U.S. officials have also said that Iran is meddling in Yemen's affairs.
In June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress that counterterrorism assistance to Yemen was important to U.S. national security.
The U.S. has poured more than $326 million in security and other assistance into Yemen since 2007, fueled by the escalating threat from the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The aid abruptly stopped last year at a time of political and security unrest.
Initial plans by the Pentagon to send at least $150 million in aid to Yemen last year were shut down, and no military aid has been approved until last month.
In addition to the funding for Yemen, the Pentagon also notified Congress that it is sending aid to Niger, Mauritania and Estonia.
The $11.7 million in aid to Niger to help its counterterrorism forces operate in remote locations and battle al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The aid includes two aircraft, training and communications equipment.
Mauritania will get nearly $7 million in weapons, vehicles and other equipment, also to help battle AQIM. And Estonia will receive $1.7 million in training for its special operations forces that will deploy to Afghanistan.