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Yemen diverted US counterrorism aid meant to tackle Al Qaeda, WikiLeaks reveals

A December 2009 cable, published by WikiLeaks, shows that Yemen deployed a US-funded counterterrorism unit to fight domestic rebels instead of Al Qaeda.

In this Aug. 31 file photo, Yemeni tanks are seen in Saada province, Yemen. According to a December 2009 cable from the US embassy in Sanaa, shows that Yemen deployed a US-funded counterterrorism unit to fight against militant Houthi rebels in the northern governorate of Saada during a surge in fighting last year.

Yemeni Army/AP/File

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As the US weighs another possible increase in Yemen aid early next year, WikiLeaks has revealed that Yemen is diverting at least some US counterterrorism resources to tackle other domestic priorities – including President Ali Abdullah Saleh's enemies.

According to a December 2009 cable from the US embassy in Sanaa, a counterterrorism unit (CTU) trained and funded by the Americans to hunt down Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives was deployed instead against militant Houthi rebels in the northern governorate of Saada during a surge in fighting last year.

“Increasingly desperate to defeat the Houthis, the [Yemeni government] continues to insist that fighting the Houthis is a legitimate component of CT [counterterrorism] operations, thus justifying the use of CTU forces in Saada," reads the State Department cable. "Untrained to fight this type of conflict, the overstretched CTU has reportedly sustained significant casualties, missed training opportunities and been derailed from its principal mission: to combat AQAP.”

The cable underscores – and appears to at least partially validate – concerns that millions of dollars in US counterterrorism aid may be used not only to fight Al Qaeda, but to address other Yemeni priorities not shared by Washington.

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