Yemen's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country opposes any direct intervention by U.S. or other foreign troops in the fight against al-Qaida.
Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told The Associated Press in an interview that "there is a lot of sensitivity about foreign troops coming to Yemeni territory."
The United States has ramped up its counterterrorism aid to Yemen in an intensified campaign to uproot al-Qaida's offshoot here, which Washington warns has become a "global" threat. U.S. military personnel have already been on the ground training Yemeni security forces in the fight, and intelligence cooperation has increased.
Al-Qirbi said Yemen's government would welcome more military trainers, "but not in any other capacity."
"There is a lot of debate among them about how far they should get involved in Yemen," al-Qirbi said, referring to the United States and its allies. "I'm sure that their experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be very useful to learn from — that direct intervention complicates things."
So far the U.S. has indicated it is not aiming to deploy ground forces in Yemen. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said earlier in the week, "We're not talking about that at this point at all."
But al-Qirbi's comments underscored how Washington must tread carefully as it strengthens its partnership with Yemen's fragile government, which has little control over large parts of the country outside the capital and rules over a population where Islamic conservativism and mistrust of the Unites States is widespread.
There have been media reports that U.S. cruise missile or warplanes were involved in strikes carried out last month against several al-Qaida strongholds, which Yemen says killed at least 30 militants. U.S. officials have not confirmed the reports and Yemen says U.S. help in the attacks was limited to the intelligence level.
Earlier this week, al-Qirbi insisted there is no agreement between Yemen and the United States allowing the American military to use cruise missiles, drones or warplanes in strikes on Yemeni territory, "and there is no proposal for such an agreement."
The issue is highly sensitive for the Yemenis. In 2002, the government was infuriated when U.S. officials made public that U.S. cruise missiles were used in a strike that killed a top al-Qaida figure, Abu Ali al-Harithi — believed to be the mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. San'a complained that the exposure embarrassed it before the Yemeni public.
Yemen has intensified its campaign against the hundreds of al-Qaida militants that have built up strongholds in lawless regions of the impoverished mountain nation.
Security forces arrested three suspected al-Qaida militants from a cell that the U.S. has said was linked to a plot against the American or other embassies, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
The three were captured Tuesday at a hospital where they were being treated after being wounded in clashes with security forces a day earlier. In those clashes, Yemeni forces attacked a group of al-Qaida fighters moving in the mountains in the Arhab region. The troops were aiming to capture al-Qaida's suspected leader in the area, Mohammed Ahmed al-Hanaq, and a relative Nazeeh al-Hanaq, the ministry said.
They escaped, but two fighters with them were killed and several others were wounded.
No identities were given for the captured militants.
AP correspondent Ahmed al-Haj in San'a contributed to this report.
On the Net:
U.S. Embassy in Yemen: http://yemen.usembassy.gov/
(This version CORRECTS SUBS graf 10 to correct year of USS Cole bombing to 2000 sted 2002)
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