SANAA (Reuters) - A senior aide to President Barack Obama flew to Yemen on Sunday to meet the leader of a country battling with al Qaeda insurgents that Washington believes has also targeted the United States, U.S. and Yemeni officials said.
The visit by John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, comes as Yemen is on a new offensive against Islamist rebels and after Washington said it had foiled an airliner bomb plot linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate.
Washington has stepped up its drone attacks in Yemen since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, and the Pentagon said this week it had recently resumed sending military trainers into the Gulf Arab country.
In a brief statement, the U.S. embassy in Yemen said Brennan had “conveyed President Obama’s strong commitment to support Yemen as it continues to implement its political agreement and prepares for a comprehensive national dialogue”.
No other details of the meeting were immediately available.
Mohammed al-Basha, a Washington-based Yemeni government spokesman, said earlier that Brennan had flown into Yemen “to reiterate holistic U.S. support to Yemen not only in the field of counter-terrorism but also by providing assistance to help Yemen overcome its many other economic and security challenges”.
Washington backed a power transfer plan that made Hadi the successor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh after a year of mass protests which coincided with a split in the army that threatened to erupt into civil war.
The deal stipulates the new president should lead Yemen through a two-year period in the hope that the impoverished nation will be able to use that time to end political chaos.
Brennan’s visit comes amid increasing attacks on officials and foreign diplomats as Yemen tries to wrest back control of its restive south from Islamist rebels.
Unidentified assailants hurled a hand grenade at the house of Information Minister Ali al-Amrani on Saturday. A bystander was wounded in the foot during a shoot-out as the men escaped, Abdel-Basset al-Qaedi, a member of Amrani’s staff, said.
In January, gunmen opened fire on the information minister’s car in an apparent assassination attempt, and on Saturday Bulgaria’s ambassador escaped an apparent kidnap attempt in the capital Sanaa.
On Sunday, at least 10 militants were killed in clashes with the Yemeni army near the southern city of Zinjibar. Six militants were killed on Saturday night in an air strike in Zinjibar, the Defense Ministry said in an online statement.
Two apparent U.S. drone attacks killed at least 10 suspected al Qaeda-linked militants on Saturday, officials said. [ID:nL5E8GC2CF] Yemen’s interior ministry said on Sunday two of the militants killed in the air strikes were Saudi.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of failed attacks by Yemen’s al Qaeda branch, want Hadi to unite the army and roll back gains made by Islamists who seized southern towns during the political turmoil.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Tom Finn in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Rania El Gamal and Joseph Logan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy/Maria Golovnina