WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Yemen continue to work together against militants, the Pentagon said, despite the instability that on Wednesday forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 33 years in power.
“Despite the political instability in Yemen, we have been able to preserve important counter-terrorism relationships with that country,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“Our shared interest with the Yemeni government in fighting terrorism, particularly defeating AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), goes beyond specific individuals,” the statement said.
After 10 months of protests that brought this desperately poor country to the brink of civil war, Saleh signed a deal in Riyadh to transfer powers immediately to his deputy, setting off celebrations in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.
Many U.S. officials see AQAP, which claimed responsibility for a failed 2009 attack aboard a U.S. airliner and another attempt to blow up two U.S.-bound cargo planes, as a top threat to American security.
Securing backing from Yemeni authorities in U.S. efforts to counter such threats, which have included CIA-operated drones, has dominated U.S. dealings with Yemen.
Earlier this year, a U.S. drone strike killed U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a suspected AQAP operative who was a top target for the U.S. counter-terror program.
Reporting by Missy Ryan; editing by Anthony Boadle