By Andrew Hammond

SANAA (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Yemen says the government is fighting an effective war against al Qaeda militants but he is concerned about security lapses during an attack on the U.S. Embassy.

Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said in an interview with Reuters that Washington would not change its policies after the embassy attack. He did not believe most Yemenis held anti-American sentiments, he said.

"The government of Yemen is now engaged in a very aggressive and effective campaign so far to push al Qaeda back," Feierstein said, praising President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Arabian Peninsula state has been in turmoil since a revolt against former ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who Washington had long backed as someone to keep militants in check.

Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority amid fears that al Qaeda and other militants will entrench themselves in a country that neighbors oil exporter Saudi Arabia and lies on important shipping lanes.

Hadi came to power after a power transfer accord in November brokered by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States.

The United States has supported him with military training and materiel as well as controversial drone strikes. It played an active role in a military offensive earlier this year to remove militants from towns in south Yemen that they occupied during last year's uprising to end Saleh's 33-year rule.

Islamist militants have hit back with a string of attacks on security officials and the bombing of a suicide attack on a military parade in May that killed 100 soldiers.

"We've seen in response that al Qaeda has stepped up its terrorism campaigns, with assassinations and bombings," Feierstein said.

But the Yemeni government was doing a better job at fighting militants now than at any time since 2000, when a bomb attack on the USS Cole in Aden port killed 17 U.S. servicemen, he said.

"Those kinds of things are difficult to stop but I think President Hadi is determined. He's going to root this out."


This month protesters angered by an anti-Islam film made in the United States broke through security checkpoints to storm the U.S. Embassy.

Breaking through to the inner building, they ripped plaques and lettering from its walls and tried to smash secure glass doors.

"Clearly there was a failure on the part of the government to provide adequate security for the embassy," Feierstein said.

"Why that was, why there was not a strengthening of security, why the security elements of the president didn't do more to try to deter the demonstrations is not clear yet. Exactly who played a role is not clear yet."

Protests were called by Sunni Islamists of the Islah party and the Shi'ite Houthi movement, who often denounce the U.S. Embassy as the true centre of power in Yemen. Hadi has ordered an investigation.


Feierstein is a career diplomat who specializes in the Middle East and South Asia. Previous postings include Pakistan, Israel and Lebanon and he has served as the ambassador to Yemen since September 2010.

He spelled out U.S. policy in Yemen as deterRing violent extremism, assisting the transition to full democracy and promoting state development.

"Overall the majority of Yemenis understand that this has been a good relationship and that what the U.S. is trying to accomplish here are all good things for Yemen," he said,

"There is no change in U.S. policy, we are not rethinking our engagement at all."

Feierstein declined to comment on the controversial use of unmanned planes for airstrikes against suspected militants that have killed many civilians, including 12 this month.

Western diplomats say they are concerned over what they say are efforts by some Saleh supporters, southern secessionists and Sunni and Shi'ite Islamists to disrupt the transition process.

Over 2,000 people are thought to have died in the turmoil, including protesters, soldiers killed after the split into rival factions, and people caught in the crossfire.

Washington and Gulf Arab states played a leading role in the deal that saw Saleh agree to step down in return for immunity from prosecution.

(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Angus MacSwan)