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U.S. pushing to train Yemeni special forces

By Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States hopes to train Yemeni special operations forces to seek out potential terrorists as the Bush administration eyes expanding its campaign against terrorism outside Afghanistan, State Department and Yemeni officials tell CNN.

The subject was discussed during a visit this week to Washington by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during which he discussed growing U.S.-Yemeni cooperation with President Bush and other senior administration officials.

"We hope we are turning a corner with the Yemenis," one State Department official said Wednesday, adding that Saleh was warmly received due to his apparent eagerness to help the administration.

The U.S. believes that al Qaeda terrorist cells are operating within Yemen, and administration officials worry that those cells could become more active after al Qaeda is driven from Afghanistan by the U.S. military campaign against the Taliban.

"We are trying to make sure Yemen is not the new base for Afghanistan," this official said.

U.S. and Yemeni officials said cooperation is being stepped up on both intelligence sharing and security.

One State Department official said the U.S. hoped to begin training of special Yemeni forces "immediately."

A Yemeni official dismissed concerns that Yemen could ever be the next base for al Qaeda but told CNN that his government was "ready to do its best" to cooperate with the United States.

He added that Yemen would be willing to have its forces trained by U.S. personnel.

"We are working with the U.S. to identify how we can do this," he said, adding that Yemen wanted its forces to receive the best training available.


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