Source: CNN, By Mohammed Jamjoom
Yemen's security forces chief says there is no shame in cooperating in terror fight.
Gen. Yahya Saleh says he is open to U.S. airstrikes against terrorists there, if needed.
He says the presence of U.S. troops in Yemen would hurt the country.
Sanaa, Yemen- The United States has been involved in airstrikes in Yemen in the past, the director of Yemen's counterterrorism unit acknowledges, but there is no American military presence in the country.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Gen. Yahya Saleh said Yemen continues to receive much-needed funds from the United States for training, development and intelligence-sharing, and he said the country should be open about the kind of assistance it requires in its fight against al Qaeda.
"We are now in a global war against terrorism. And there shouldn't be any shame about any kind of cooperation," said Saleh, who heads the country's Central Security Forces.
"We need to be clear and truthful. There is international cooperation in fighting terror. The thing that we can't do is to be shy about asking for cooperation from others.
And that's why we shouldn't be ashamed to announce that there is cooperation and intelligence sharing and cooperation in searching for al Qaeda elements."
Last week, Yemen's Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, told the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper that the U.S. had carried out airstrikes in Yemen, marking his government's first official confirmation of a U.S. military role in its fight against terrorism.
Al-Qirbi said the airstrikes ended in December because the "Yemeni government ascertained they weren't achieving results."
While Saleh did not directly discuss U.S. airstrikes, when asked to respond to al-Qiribi's remarks that the United States had been involved in airstrikes in Yemen, Saleh said, "There are times when we need their support in this field."
He went on to say he did not see any problem with that.
"If we are allies in the fight on terror," he said, "there should be real cooperation in the fight on terror and not just statements. There should be real cooperation. Our abilities could be limited in certain fields. So why not get assistance from others?"
He said Yemen should be open to additional airstrike assistance from the U.S. When asked if airstrikes by the United States had actually ended in December, Saleh said, "Yes. But if we need it in the future, then why not?"
In August a U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN that the Obama administration was considering adding armed CIA drones to help fight the increasing threat of al Qaeda in Yemen.
Officially the United States has not said it conducted previous airstrikes there, but officials have privately said the Yemeni military could not have carried out the strikes on its own.
Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan has said that the Defense Department "provides a broad range of support to Yemen to include training and equipment, but the nature of operations there are such that we are not always able to talk about them in detail."
In December, senior U.S. officials told CNN that U.S. special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, were working to identify potential al Qaeda targets in Yemen.
This was part of a new classified agreement with the Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the United States will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes, the officials said.
Saleh explained that U.S. military presence in Yemen was "non-existent, because we have enough male and female soldiers to fight terror and to fight those who want to hurt Yemen."
He added that presence of U.S. troops in Yemen would only hurt his country's fight on terror, because the presence of U.S. troops here would be used by terrorist elements in Yemen -- that Al-Qaeda here would announce the presence of the US troops, making the situation even worse.
Yemen faces a growing threat from al Qaeda, and in December, Yemen's offshoot al Qaeda element grabbed the attention of the West with the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines trans-Atlantic flight as it landed in Detroit, Michigan, on December 25.
The suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who has pleaded not guilty to six federal terrorism charges, was reportedly trained and armed in Yemen by radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.
Saleh, who put al Qaeda's numbers in Yemen at between 200 to 300, stressed that Yemen had intensified its fight against al Qaeda and downplayed Awalki's importance.
"He's not a problem for Yemen," said Saleh. "He's a problem for America."
When asked if Anwar al-Awlaki is such a popular figure in Yemen that it would be too dangerous for the government to risk angering the tribes by really going after him, Saleh denied it -- and said that idea was an exaggeration by the media.
"All al Qaeda leaders in the past, they used to say, these are from big tribes, and nobody could do anything or capture them, but in the end, we captured them or killed them in combat -- and nothing happened.
This is a media exaggeration and that's all. In the end, Anwar al-Awlaki, if he is captured and a case is brought against him, he'll be taken to court. That's all. And it's better if he surrenders. If he thinks he's innocent and didn't do anything, he should surrender himself to security forces for the safety of his soul."
Saleh also said the war against al Qaeda could not be won simply by military means, and stressed the importance of going after al Qaeda on many fronts.
"Fighting al Qaeda isn't only done by the military," said Saleh. "Combating it also happens from an ideological point of view and from an economic point of view.
Al Qaeda members should be kicked out. Like the ideas of the Nazis -- anyone who holds the ideology of al Qaeda should be brought justice anywhere in the world they might be, no matter their nationality or color or race."
Saleh said Yemen needs more funding to effectively combat terrorism.
"The funds we get are very low in comparison to how much money we lose due to al Qaeda," explained Saleh. "It has affected investments, it has affected unemployment rates, so the losses we incur due to al Qaeda are more than what we get from the West or other places."
Yemen is not only engaged in a battle against al Qaeda. It is also facing a rebellion in the north and a growing separatist movement in the south.
While Saleh admits Yemen faces many problems, he insists Yemen is not a failed state, and that the international community should respect his country for being able to stand up to these problems.
"The international community should respect that, and respect us for our steadfastness, and not leave us alone," Saleh said. "Because when they say Yemen is a failed state or Yemen will collapse, I don't know why that would make them happy. Because the devastation brought by a failed Yemen will not only hurt the Yemeni people, but the world as well.
Because of Yemen's geographic location and its proximity to globally strategic areas, it's not in anyone's benefit for Yemen to fail."