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Why Yemen's US-aided fight against Al Qaeda could backfire

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A day in the life of Yemen's counterterrorism unit

The main crux of Yemen’s counterterrorism offensive is targeted military action by the Yemeni Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), with the aid of American and British funding, trainers, and intelligence. In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized $150 million in security assistance for Yemen for fiscal year 2010, up from $67 million last year. According to officials interviewed by Reuters, $38 million of the funding is earmarked for a military transport aircraft, while $34 million will go to "tactical assistance" of Yemen's special operations forces.

The CTU was established in 2003 and consists of 200 fighters who live in barracks at the headquarters of Central Command in Sanaa. They attend training sessions five days a week at a small, primitive obstacle course about eight miles outside the capital.

On a recent day, a small team of soldiers in green camouflage ran drills. The soldiers ran to a fixed point before lying down and firing at an upper body target. Darting up in unison, they ran to another target point and fired at green glass bottles balanced on a wall, until moving on to firing pistols at a closer range on more targets that appeared to be cut from wood and cardboard. An empty concrete structure approximating a house stands amid the course, where the CTU practices approaching homes.

The CTU also has an all-woman unit consisting of 42 women, who work with female American instructors, who also practice shooting on the course. Overhead, the sound of Air Force practice could be heard.

Maj. Abu Luhom, who has been with the CTU since it was founded, says they have been running more, increasingly successful, missions in recent months: “We owe the credit to American and British training.”

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