|The Yemeni government continues to face pressure to crack down on al-Qaeda fighters [Reuters]
Yemen is setting up provincial "anti-terrorism" units to confront al-Qaeda, a security official has said.
The official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity on Sunday that the government is setting up localised "anti-terrorism" units to engage al-Qaeda fighters in their own strongholds.
The new units will operate in Shabwa, where the US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is believed to be hiding, as well as in the mountainous central Marib province, in Abyan and the eastern province of Hadramawt, where, according to government officials, many al-Qaeda fighters are taking refuge and where the government has little control.
Yemen already has highly trained, US-funded "anti-terrorism" security units, operating under the military and the interior ministry. But this is the first time officials have said the units will be based in al-Qaeda strongholds.
The US has been pressuring Yemen to take on al-Qaeda, whose presence has grown in the impoverished country and has increasingly been organising attacks abroad from its havens in Yemen.
This month, John Brennan, the top US top "counterterrorism" official, called Ali Abdallah Saleh, the Yemeni president asking him to take "forceful'' action against al-Qaeda to thwart its plans to carry out attacks in Yemen and abroad.
In the past five years, US military assistance to Yemen has totaled about $250 million.
According to US officials, military aid to Yemen for 2011 alone would reach $250 million.
Earlier this month, cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks revealed that Yemen's president secretly offered US forces access to his country to take on al-Qaeda.
Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, the US president's deputy national security adviser, that the US had an "open door on terrorism" in Yemen, according to reports in The Guardian and The New York Times on Friday.
Saleh also admitted misleading his people by claiming that US cruise missile attacks on al-Qaeda in Yemen last December were the work of Yemeni forces, with the support of American intelligence authorities.
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, on January 2.