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MIDDLE EAST

United Arab Emirates Withdraws Forces from Yemen Port City of Aden

Steamer Point in Aden, Yemen. 2013.
Steamer Point in Aden, Yemen. 2013. (Photo: Brian Harrington Spier)

On the heels of reportedly successful talks between opposing factions in Yemen, the UAE has withdrawn troops from a key Yemen port city.

Yemeni officials, speaking anonymously to Bloomberg, announced they observed the withdrawal of United Arab Emirates’ troops, along with some Sudanese forces, in the Yemeni port of Aden and the Al-Anad military airbase in Lahj province. Yet, a spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry denied his government ordered any withdrawal of the Sudanese soldiers.

Indirect Talks

According to Bloomberg, the troop withdrawal comes following recently held talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia between the Saudi-backed government of Yemen, headed by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) of Yemen, which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) backs. The talks reportedly reached an agreement over the return to Aden of both Hadi’s government and the Yemeni parliament.

The agreement also stipulated the formation of a new administration for Yemen to include members of the separatist Transitional Council. Separatist fighters will integrate into the Yemeni security forces, according to the agreement in Saudi Arabia.

Way to Return 

In August of this year, fierce battles between local allies of Saudi Arabia and UAE and separatists erupted in Aden and led to the separatist takeover of Aden and other parts of Abyan and Lahj province.

Although Sudan’s foreign ministry denied Sudanese troops have withdrawn from Aden, the Foreign Minister of Sudan, Anwar Gargash, said Oct. 6 that his country “appreciates and fully supports” the Jeddah talks. The Saudi efforts are working to restore unity among Yemenis against the Houthi rebels.

Saudi-sponsored talks for Yemeni rivals come as the Houthi armed group, which is believed to have backing from the Shiite Iran Islamic State, has recently intensified aerial attacks, involving explosives-laden drones and missiles against Saudi Arabia. Most recently Houthis claimed responsibility for the large-scale attack on the Saudi oil refining company, Aramco.

The internationally recognized Yemeni government of Hadi declared Aden as its capital in 2015, following the Houthi rebels’ takeover of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2014. However, following the takeover of Aden by the STC, last month, Hadi announced a new interim capital in the city of Ataq.

According to the Middle East Monitor, in spite of the UAE’s withdrawal from parts of Aden, some reports suggested that UAE-backed mercenary forces, known as the “Giant Brigades”, have been re-positioning from Yemeni coastal areas toward Aden.

UAE Troop Withdrawal Impact on Saudi Arabia

A Begin and Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) paper released in August of this year by Dr. James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, argued that the UAE’s pullout of troops from Aden underscored the gap in the middle east between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Dorsay also claimed the UAE troop withdrawal suggested the UAE was preparing for the possibility of a military confrontation between Iran and the U.S. with the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, as battlegrounds.

The difference between the two militarily allied countries in Yemen, according to Dorsay, lies in the UAE’s position not to blame Iran – Saudi Arabia’s regional foe – for a series of frequent Houthi rebel attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s contrasting image.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been condemned for attacks on civilian targets throughout the Yemen War, but Dorsay argues the UAE is more “keen” to preserve its image as a model and preferred country for Arab youth. The UAE troop withdrawal will, thus, leave Saudi Arabia more open to condemnation for its humanitarian atrocities in Yemen.

However, according to Dorsay, Saudi Arabia and the UAE maintain an alliance as being important to preserve their status quo as autocratic regimes in the face of almost one decade of regional popular protests and civil wars.

Yemen’s Civil War

Fighting in Yemen began five years ago when Houthi rebels took control of large parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa in late 2014. Mass protests and the Houthi rebel group forced the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from power in 2015. Hadi is now reportedly in exile in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The civil war has its roots in the 2011 Arab Spring that led to a 2011 Yemen uprising that eventually forced the end of the 32-year-long regime of Yemen’s late president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The uprising grew into a military conflict in 2014 and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people have died or been displaced.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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