The nation's top military leader said Friday the United States has no plans to send troops into Yemen, and that country has made it clear it does not want U.S. ground forces there.
In an address Friday to hundreds of students at the Naval War College in Newport, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed issues raised by the Christmas Day attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound jet by a Nigerian man whom the FBI says told them he was trained by al-Qaida in Yemen.
Mullen said he is asked all the time if the U.S. is sending troops to Yemen, and said: "The answer is, we have no plans to do that, and we shouldn't forget this is a sovereign country."
Later, he told reporters he considered Yemen an emerging safe-haven for al-Qaida, and said the U.S. would broaden its support with additional diplomatic engagement.
"They've been pretty clear about the support that they want and what they don't want," Mullen said. "Their foreign minister has been very clear, that they're not interested in forces on the ground."
Yemeni officials said this week that they accept help from U.S. forces in training, intelligence and logistical support. Direct combat or large force deployments would not be acceptable, the officials said.
Speaking to CNN host Fareed Zakaria, Mullen praised Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
"We have great respect for the president there in terms of his, his judgment, in terms of what he needs to do," Mullen said in an interview to air Sunday. "And right now as far as any kind of boots on the ground there, with respect to the United States, that's just not ... a possibility. He's just, we're not, into those kinds of discussions."
'Long way to go'
In Newport, Mullen called Somalia fertile ground for an emerging safe-haven.
During his talk, Mullen responded to a question by an officer of the Yemen Coast Guard on how to help Yemen, saying the U.S. has worked to improve relationships with Yemen in training, education and "war-fighting support."
"Yet we still have a long way to go," Mullen said. "There's clear recognition that there's a desire between both our countries to strengthen the relationship and, in fact, create the kind of support that gets to providing the kind of help that you and your countrymen need."
"We recognize the seriousness of the situation," he said.
The Naval War College educates military officers from all branches of the armed services, as well as civilian government officials, and its students come from dozens of countries.