BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- A U.S. military commander said today the United States will more than double its nearly $70 million security assistance program for Yemen, where a crackdown is underway on Al-Qaeda militants believed to be behind a failed plot to blow up a U.S. airliner.
U.S. officials have said they were looking at ways to expand military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen, the Arab world's poorest state, to root out Al-Qaeda leadership in the country.
"We have, it's well known, about $70 million in security assistance last year. That will more than double this coming year," General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said at a news conference in Baghdad.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit with nearly 300 people on board.
Washington has sharply increased training, intelligence, and military equipment provided to Yemeni forces, helping them carry out air raids against suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts last month.
The Pentagon's main publicly disclosed counterterrorism program for Yemen grew from $4.6 million in fiscal 2006 to $67 million in fiscal 2009. That figure does not include covert, classified assistance that the United States has provided.
Petraeus noted the Yemeni government's efforts against Al-Qaeda and said the United States had enabled them through the security assistance program.
"Indeed there has been sharing of intelligence and information and so forth," he said. "[It's a] two-way street because the intelligence sources of Yemen are very, very good."
Petraeus said one of the operations carried out in December forestalled an attack of four suicide bombers on Sanaa, Yemen's capital, and others targeted militant training camps and senior militant leaders who were "believed to have been killed or seriously injured."
Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is battling a Shi'ite rebellion in the north and separatist sentiment in the south. The United States fears Al-Qaeda is exploiting the country's instability to turn it into a launchpad for attacks.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today called an international meeting in London on January 28 to discuss Yemen.