President Barack Obama says he has “no intention” of sending US troops to fight militants in Yemen and Somalia and that Al-Qaeda’s activities are still centered along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“I have every intention of working with our international partners in lawless areas around the globe to make sure that we’re keeping the American people safe,” Obama said in a People interview to be published Friday. The magazine released a transcript Sunday.
“I never rule out any possibility in a world that is this complex… In countries like Yemen, in countries like Somalia, I think working with international partners is most effective at this point.
“I have no intention of sending US boots on the ground in these regions,” he added.
Recent strikes on Al-Qaeda positions in Yemen, including cruise missile attacks, were reportedly led by the United States, which has vowed to boost its economic and military aid to Sanaa. London and Washington have already announced plans to fund a counter-extremism police in the country.
The top US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen acknowledged in a CNN interview Sunday that the United States was providing “some support” to Yemen’s efforts to strike Al-Qaeda militants, but insisted that Sanaa led the operations.
A thinly stretched US military has deployed large troop contingents to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The number of US troops in Afghanistan — where Obama has vowed to recenter the US war against Al-Qaeda militants who have also sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan — is set to triple under his watch from 2008 levels, reaching some 100,000 later this year.
Washington has urged Yemen to crack down on Al-Qaeda after the local franchise of Osama bin Laden’s network said it was behind a narrowly-avoided Christmas Day bombing aboard a US-bound airliner.
But the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country already faces a litany of challenges, including a water shortage, dwindling oil reserves, a Shiite rebellion in the north and a movement for autonomy in the south.
Somalia is also the focus of US counterterrorism efforts, where an embattled transitional government faces relentless attacks from extremist Shebab militants and their Hezb al-Islam allies.
The central government asserts little control over the country located along key shipping routes to oil fields in the Middle East.
International navies are battling to keep key shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean free from pirates, who are broadening their area of operation.
“We’ve known throughout this year that Al-Qaeda in Yemen has become a more serious problem. And as a consequence, we have partnered with the Yemeni government to go after those terrorist training camps and cells there in a much more deliberate and sustained fashion,” Obama said.
“The same is true in Somalia, another country where there are large chunks that are not fully under government control and Al-Qaeda is trying to take advantage of them.”
He insisted that “the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains the epicenter of Al-Qaeda, their leadership and their extremist allies.”
US officials have said they are seeking to boost military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen.
“Yemen does not want to have American ground troops there. And that’s a good response for us to hear, certainly,” said General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, which oversees a region encompassing the Middle East, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.
“Of course, we would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself. We want to help. We’re providing assistance,” he told CNN.
Petraeus, who returned from a trip to Yemen, said Washington planned to more than double its economic aid to Yemen this year to 150 million dollars or more. But US officials have insisted the total aid amount has not yet been determined.
Though the figure pales in comparison to the billions of dollars Washington has poured into Afghanistan, the general stressed other allies were providing aid, including Saudi Arabia, which has reportedly allocated two billion dollars, and the United Arab Emirates, which pledged 650 million dollars to Sanaa.