- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

The United States has positioned up to 800 troops in the Horn of Africa for insertion into nearby Yemen to eliminate al Qaeda followers in the border region with Saudi Arabia.

U.S. officials said the contingent includes special operations troops trained in hunting down terrorists. Officials declined to say whether the contingent would enter Yemen or whether any action was imminent.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni government official said his country would use its own troops to hunt al Qaeda members and would not permit U.S. Special Forces to launch covert operations.

"Yemen's position is clear: Yemeni forces are the ones responsible for conducting any operations, be they searches or attacks," the official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

He said cooperation with the United States was limited to the training of Yemeni security forces and the exchange of intelligence.

Yemen has been one of al Qaeda's largest strongholds. It was from the tribal border region that Osama bin Laden's operatives planned and carried out the suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 American sailors.

Officials said the deployment of U.S. troops to the tiny African country of Djibouti is part of an overall plan by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to accelerate the war against the al Qaeda network. "He wants them killed faster," said one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Washington Times first reported last month that Mr. Rumsfeld had ordered his top commando, Gen. Charles Holland, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, to develop a new plan for clandestine actions around the world. The plan called for Special Operations Command SoCom, as it is known to take control of specific missions that would normally be headed by regional combatant commands, such as U.S. Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan.

The amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood was sailing in the Gulf of Aden between Djibouti and Yemen. The ship could be used as a launching pad for a commando insertion.

News of the troop deployment to Djibouti was first reported this week by wire services and TV networks.

Somalia, located on the Horn of Africa, was once an operating base for some al Qaeda members. The United States has intensively watched the impoverished, warlord-run country to see if al Qaeda would attempt to regroup there after fleeing its main base in Afghanistan.

Senior officials say that several al Qaeda members did emerge in that country last winter, but that no training bases materialized.

Shortly after air strikes began Oct. 7 in Afghanistan, the Pentagon dispatched a team of Army Green Berets to Yemen to train and equip its police force to battle terrorists in the lawless tribal areas near Saudi Arabia. The locals conducted at least one major raid on suspected al Qaeda members, but counterterrorism operations have slowed this summer.

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