Yemeni official says UAE to end troop presence this year

By BLOOMBERG Published: July 10, 2019

The United Arab Emirates told the Yemeni government last month that it plans to unwind its military role in the war-ravaged country by the end of this year, a senior Yemeni official said, as the Gulf Arab state moves to avert a slide toward a broader conflict.

The plan was discussed during a visit by Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik to Abu Dhabi in June, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The official said Abdulmalik voiced concerns over how the pullout would affect the conflict in Yemen, where the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are backing the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

A representative of the U.A.E. Foreign Ministry referred Bloomberg to a briefing by a senior official on Monday, in which he said some troops had been withdrawn from Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah. The U.A.E.’s military presence in the rest of the country will “ebb and flow” depending on the situation, he said. The official also said operations against al-Qaida and Islamic State will continue.

The redeployment comes amid growing friction between the U.S. and Iran since the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Iranian oil exports in early May. It also has raised questions about how closely the U.A.E’s policy is aligned with that of Saudi Arabia, its closest ally and the leader of a coalition fighting the Houthis.

While both countries welcomed increased American pressure on Iran under President Donald Trump, Emirati officials have struck an increasingly cautious tone and have called for de-escalation as fears of a slide into a new Middle East war have grown.

The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia got involved in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to support Hadi, but the Emiratis later threw their weight behind southern separatists.

The war has turned into a quagmire despite the overwhelming military superiority of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. The Houthis have fired hundreds of rockets into Saudi Arabia during the course of the war but have begun to carry out much more damaging drone and missile attacks further inside the country in recent weeks.

The Emirati official said on Monday that the pullout would not leave a vacuum, as the coalition had trained 90,000 people who were doing most of the work there.

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