The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces held a rare press conference on 13 August to refute an Associated Press (AP) report that the successful campaign it said it had carried against the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda involved payments and little fighting.
The AP reported on 6 August that interviews with dozens of Yemeni sources had revealed that the UAE had paid Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants to leave cities and towns, had allowed them to withdraw with their weapons, and had ignored the recruitment of others into local security forces it is supporting because it is more focused on defeating the Iranian-backed rebels in the north of the country.
“It makes me angry to hear about this accusation, it is based on nothing,” said Brigadier Musallam al-Rashidi, the former commander of the UAE’s special operations task force in Yemen in 2015–16. “How do you negotiate with someone who is not willing to negotiate?”
In his presentation, Brig Rashidi outlined the situation before the start of the operation, saying AQAP had taken advantage of political instability to take control of much of southern Yemen, turn the coastal city of Al-Mukalla into the capital of its ‘caliphate’, and earn USD2 million a day from oil revenue and port taxation.
After more than two years of UAE-backed operations, AQAP is now at its weakest point since 2012, having lost half the territory it held at its peak, he said. In the process, it has been deprived of its strategic safe havens, main revenue streams, and recruitment pools.
“Around 1,000 core AQAP fighters have been killed. In Mukalla alone, roughly about 500–600 were captured, but roughly 120–200 were killed,” Brig Rashidi said.
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