WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Some 150 U.S. Marines arrived in Yemen last week to start training Yemeni coast guard forces which recently graduated from the Navy Technical Institute, U.S. Marine Corps officials confirmed to United Press International Thursday.
It is the largest U.S. military presence in Yemen since October 2000, when suicide bombers blew a hole in the USS Cole, a destroyer that was refueling in port. The attack killed 17 U.S. sailors.
The Marines will supervise the training of the coast guards forces in the city of Mekalla on the Arab Sea and the southern city of Aden where some 900 Navy servicemen are stationed on the USS Mount Whitney off Djibouti.
The Marines will organize field training for the Yemeni coast guards until the end of February, the Yemeni independent weekly Al-Ousbou reported on Wednesday. A Marine Corps official said the length of the training program remains in flux.
"(The) end of February is a very soft date," the official told UPI.
The Yemeni government has recently approved a special budget for the coast guards and the reorganization of the border guards, Al Ousou reported.
The U.S. Marine Corps has expertise in shore security and works very closely with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard announced it is sending eight cutters and roughly 600 personnel to the Persian Gulf region, the latest in a series of deployments paving the way for a possible U.S. attack on Iraq.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers confirmed Wednesday that a small number of special operations forces had been inserted in northern Iraq with Kurdish opposition forces.
130,000 U.S. military personnel are in the Persian Gulf region or on their way thus far, according to a senior defense official.
Also Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that it is mobilizing an additional 15,718 reservists, bringing the total number of citizen soldiers currently activated to 94,624, one of the highest levels since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
Not all of them are headed for the Persian Gulf, according to Pentagon officials. Some are filling positions in the Pacific theater, in Afghanistan and at military bases in the United States.