Jan 18 (Reuters) - The United States is the main foreign backer of Yemen's counter-terrorism efforts against al Qaeda, according to published figures, but its support is believed to rank behind a large undisclosed contribution from Saudi Arabia.
While Saudi figures are not published, analysts estimate that its aid to its impoverished southern neighbour on security may be larger than all other countries' contributions combined.
Security in Yemen has become a pressing international priority since al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula showed its ambition to strike outside its base in Yemen when it claimed a failed Dec. 25 attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner.
On Jan. 14, Yemen's Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said Yemen needed about $2 billion a year in overall foreign aid to stay afloat and double that to turn its economy around.
Regional analysts estimate that Saudi Arabia is spending between $200 million to $300 million a year on helping Yemeni security authorities conduct counter-terrorism work. One expert estimated the figure could be in excess of $300 million.
If confirmed, that would make the kingdom the largest single source of foreign counter-terrorism help to Yemen.
It would also represent a sharp rise from estimated Saudi security assistance of less than $100 million in 2007.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh relies heavily on Saudi financial aid. Saudi Arabia is believed to spend more than $1 billion in annual official help to his government, analysts say, with Saudi non-governmental bodies and individuals contributing hundreds of millions of dollars more to private recipients.
General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, said on Jan. 1 that in 2010 the United States would more than double its nearly $70 million 2009 security aid programme for Yemen, a move that would bring the total to about $140 million.
Washington has sharply increased training, intelligence and military equipment provided to Yemeni forces, helping them carry out air raids against suspected al Qaeda hideouts in December.
The Pentagon's main publicly disclosed counter-terrorism programme for Yemen grew from $4.6 million in fiscal 2006 to $67 million in fiscal 2009. That figure does not include covert, classified assistance that the United States has provided.
In June 2009, the Defense Department notified Congress of a significant obligation of so-called 1206 DOD funds for various Yemeni security forces for the U.S. financial year 2009.
Section 1206 Authority is a Department of Defense account designed to provide equipment, supplies, or training to foreign national military forces doing counter-terrorist operations.
The new DOD 1206 obligations included:
-- $5.9 million for an aerial surveillance counter-terror initiative (helicopters with night-vision cameras),
-- $30.1 million for Coast Guard patrol and maritime security to combat piracy (two boats, radios),
-- $25 million for border security (360 four-wheel-drive armoured pickup trucks)
-- $5.8 million for improving mitigation of improvised explosive device (IED) ordnance.
Between financial years 2006 and 2007, Yemen received about $30.3 million from the Defense Department Section 1206 account.
The European Union has allocated about 10 million euros ($14.38 million) for border management and strengthening the capacity of the police and juvenile justice systems, and will start implementing most of this work in 2010.
The 27-member body expects to increase its help to Yemen on security and rule of law in coming months. It intends to help strengthen regional maritime security by working on a regional information centre to be based in Sanaa.
Most British assistance is channelled through the Department for International Development (DFID), which is running a seven million pound ($11.4 million) Justice and Policing Programme that began in 2008 and will last until 2013.
This seeks to strengthen management of policing and justice agencies, improving how those agencies use and share information, strengthen their accountability and increase access to the services they provide at local level.
On Jan. 3 Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the United States and Britain had agreed to fund a counter-terrorism police unit and would also support the coastguard. Funding would come from existing commitments to Yemen, a spokeswoman for Brown said.
DFID's Yemen programmes have risen from 12 million pounds in 2007/08 to 20 million in 2008/09 and 25 million in 2009/10. A British official said assistance could rise to 35 million pounds in 2010/11 but that would depend on talks with Yemeni officials.
Officials said Britain intended to support political structures, address the causes of conflict, build Yemeni capacity to tackle security and terrorism issues and help the government to deliver the functions of the state. (Sources: Reuters, U.S. Congressional Research Service background paper on Yemen and U.S. Relations by Jeremy Sharp, EU delegation in Yemen, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development) (Editing by Peter Millership)