WASHINGTON The United States does not plan to send U.S. troops into Yemen or Somalia as those countries struggle to contain Islamic militants, President Barack Obama said in remarks published on Sunday.
"I have no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground in these regions," Obama told People magazine, referring to Yemen and Somalia.
"I have every intention of working with our international partners in lawless areas around the globe to make sure that we're keeping the American people safe," Obama added, according to a transcript provided by the magazine.
Obama has said Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, appears to have trained, equipped and directed the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit on December 25, using explosives sewn into his underwear.
Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-inspired insurgency, has seized large areas of south and central Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation situated across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, which is located at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.
"We've known throughout this year that al Qaeda in Yemen has become a more serious problem. And, as a consequence, we have partnered with the Yemeni government to go after those terrorist training camps and cells there in a much more deliberate and sustained fashion," Obama said.
"The same is true in Somalia, another country where there are large chunks that are not fully under government control and al Qaeda is trying to take advantage of them," he added.
The United States already has large contingents of ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said they are looking at ways to expand military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen, the poorest Arab state, to root out al Qaeda leadership in the country.
Islamic militants bombed the USS Cole warship in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors.
General David Petraeus, who as head of U.S. Central Command oversees an area stretching from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, met Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on January 2 in Sanaa. Their talks focused on strengthening security, military and economic cooperation.
'A GOOD RESPONSE'
"Yemen does not want to have American ground troops there. And that's a good response for us to hear, certainly," Petraeus said in an interview aired on Sunday on CNN.
"Of course, we would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself. We want to help. We're providing assistance," Petraeus added.
The United States intends to increase its security assistance funding to Yemen from $70 million last year to at least $150 million this year, Petraeus told CNN.
The United States has increased training, intelligence and military equipment provided to Yemeni forces, helping them to stage raids against suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.
While an international anti-piracy flotilla patrols the Gulf of Aden, hundreds of small boats carrying contraband shuttle undetected between Yemen and Somalia every week. Somalia's pirates continue to roam the seas and seize vessels for ransom.
Security experts also say Yemenis make up a sizable part of a foreign contingent that fights with al Shabaab's Somali rank and file and supplies bomb-making and communications expertise.
(Editing by Sandra Maler)