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US sends troops to Yemen as Al Qaeda gains ground

Civil unrest in Yemen has enabled Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which perpetrated the foiled underwear bomb plot, to expand its reach. US troops are arriving to train Yemeni soldiers.

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Army soldiers sit on a tank at an army position in the southern city of Zinjibar, where clashes between Yemen army forces and Al Qaeda-linked militants have taken place for several weeks.

Courtesy of Yemen Defence Ministry/Reuters

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The week after revelations by a double agent that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was trying to take down a US airliner with an underwear bomb, the Pentagon announced that it has begun sending US troops into Yemen.

The move is part of a US effort to increase pressure on the terrorist outfit based in Yemen at a time when the Yemeni government is weak and only now beginning to emerge from a period of political turmoil. The troops will help train Yemeni soldiers, and together with a campaign of drone strikes and an increased intelligence presence, the aim is to hold AQAP in check while rebuilding the Yemeni government's capacity to fight its own battles.

US forces had been on the ground training Yemeni forces last year, but President Obama suspended the mission in the wake of political turmoil in the country. In February, Yemen's autocratic ruler of 30 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was replaced in a democratic election, making the return of US troops possible.

But the security situation in Yemen has worsened in recent months, with AQAP taking advantage of the civil unrest that grew as Mr. Saleh's grasp on power loosened. “It’s clear that there are more [AQAP] volunteers, there are more sanctuaries” in Yemen, says Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

It is also clear that these AQAP forces have been able to take arms and equipment that were either abandoned or lost by Yemeni forces and use them to wage attacks on the government and expand their base of operations, Dr. Cordesman adds.

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