By Carlo Munoz - 05/28/12 10:15 AM EDT
A congressionally approved $75 million cash influx for American-led counterterrorism operations in Yemen and East Africa is the latest sign of a quietly escalating war against terrorist factions in the region.
The money was part of the $631 billion defense budget bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The Yemen cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is known as one of the most active and dangerous al Qaeda factions operating today.
The CIA recently foiled an AQAP plot to blow up a commercial airliner bound for the United States from Yemen through a double agent run by British and Saudi intelligence.
Al Shabab, the East African faction of al Qaeda, has been carrying out terrorist attacks against African Union forces in and around Somalia since the 1990's.
The al Qaeda affiliate recently combined forces with the African-based Islamic fundamentalists group Boko Haram to expand its attacks against government targets along Africa's eastern shores.
Congressional funding for U.S. counterterror support in Africa and the Middle East came days after news broke that U.S. special operations forces were on the ground in Yemen, coordinating airstrikes against AQAP targets in southern Yemen.
A 20-man force of U.S. special operations troops have provided satellite imagery, drone video, eavesdropping systems and other technical means to point out suspected al Qaeda targets, according to recent news reports.
American special forces have also had a large hand in coordinating the now two month-long Yemeni offensive focused in the Abyan province along Yemen's southwestern coast, leaving hundreds of government troops and al Qaeda fighters wounded or dead.
News of U.S. special forces having an active role in the Yemen counterterrorism operation comes a week after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that no American boots would be on the ground in the country.
"There's no consideration of that," Panetta said, on the potential deployment of U.S. forces to Yemen during a May 10 briefing. "Our operations now are directed with the Yemenese going after al Qaeda."
Last Tuesday, DOD spokesman George Little said the U.S. special forces units on the ground in Yemen were part of a U.S. mission strictly focused on advising and assisting Yemeni forces.
"That is [part] of our shared commitment to thwart AQAP and its attempts to attack not just Yemenis, but Americans," Little said. "Our focus is . . . on train, advise and assist and on deepening our counterterrorism operations with Yemen. We are committed to that."
U.S. officials, however, claim that America's counterterrorism mission in Yemen will grow in size and scope over the coming years, according to news reports.
When asked if the U.S. role in Yemen could expand beyond intelligence and logistical support, Little replied that the United States has "very strong military relationship with Yemen [and] that relationship is focused . . . on jointly addressing the counterterrorism threat" posed by AQAP.
The CIA and Pentagon have been coordinating an aggressive airstrike campaign via unmanned drones against AQAP targets since 2009, following another failed attempt by the group to blow up an American airliner above Detroit.
American and Yemeni warships also allegedly shelled al Qaeda targets in Abyan in March, which reportedly killed 29 AQAP insurgents. The U.S. Navy has denied any involvement in the operation.
In April, A U.S-led airstrike against an al Qaeda-run training camp in southern Yemen ended in the deaths of 15 militants. The strike came days after American drones killed a dozen AQAP members during an attack on another terrorist training hub in the country.