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UAE confirms Yemen drawdown

10 July 2019
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An Emirati G6 self-propelled howitzer is seen in a photograph released via the UAE's official news agency in June 2018, when the start of the Al-Hudaydah offensive was announced. The UAE was already planning to withdraw its forces at that time, according to an Emirati official. Source: Emirates News Agency (WAM)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has confirmed it is withdrawing troops from Yemen in what it says is a long-planned move.

The withdrawal was first reported on 28 June by Reuters, which cited Western diplomatic sources as saying that the UAE was scaling back its commitment to the Saudi-led coalition as it wanted to have its forces home in case US-Iran tensions escalated into conflict.

On 2 July The Wall Street Journal cited Western officials as saying that the UAE was withdrawing hundreds of soldiers and their equipment from the campaign against the Ansar Allah rebel group (Houthis) in the north but would continue to maintain a presence elsewhere in the country to counter Sunni extremist groups.

The Western officials indicated that Abu Dhabi was worried about growing US opposition to the war against Ansar Allah and concerns about escalating tensions with Iran.

A UAE official confirmed the drawdown to journalists in an 8 July briefing in Dubai but denied it was prompted by the Iran situation, saying it had been planned for more than a year as part of a shift from a "military first strategy to a peace-first strategy".

That shift was encouraged by the December 2018 Stockholm ceasefire agreement covering the Red Sea port city of Al-Hudaydah, the official added. "It makes a lot of sense for us to redeploy away from Al-Hudaydah. By connection, Assab in Eritrea has also been affected because it was a staging ground for our operations in Al-Hudaydah." This is the first time an Emirati official has publicly admitted that Assab is being used as a military base, which was revealed by Jane's in February 2016.

The Emirati official said the UAE has trained 90,000 Yemeni soldiers so there is no threat that its withdrawal would create a security vacuum.

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