The United Arab Emirates is to draw back its troops taking part in the Saudi-led coalition, waging a relentless military campaign in Yemen over the past four years. This came as a shocking development for many belligerent parties within the coalition and its surrogate militias on the ground.
On the other bank of the Yemeni river, however, this UAE move, albeit on a lower scale, in a prelude to a full withdrawal from a conflict that has stirred so much criticism, resentment and denunciation worldwide. It is widely seen by Houthi rebels and their backers, mainly Iran, as a sign of defeat and despair by a major participant in the coalition that has so far failed abysmally to achieve any major goal of the campaign.
Despite Emirati sustained efforts to water down the ramifications of their decision, the move has angered their major ally, Saudi Arabia, who is sinking deeper into the vicious circle of the Yemeni war. Houthi rebels have recently shocked the very roots of stability and security in the massively armed and super oil-rich Kingdom by hitting strategic oil installations as well as military air bases in Saudi Arabia. This has caused its rulers to hastily hold three summits in as many days hoping to muster the support of GCC, Arab and Islamic nations in its complicated paradigm, with very little success.
The UAE claims that its decision to pull some troops from areas including the southern port of Aden and the western coast was agreed with its Saudi allies.
The drawback “was not a last-minute decision” and had been discussed extensively with Riyadh, said the official, who refused to be named.
“Our discussion over our redeployment has been ongoing for over a year and it has been heightened after the signing of the Stockholm agreement in December,” the official told reporters in Dubai. The UAE official maintained that the port city of Hudeida was most affected by the decision because of a holding ceasefire under a U.N.-led pact reached last year in Sweden to pave the way for talks to end the war.
The Emirati explanation tried to justify the drawback of their troops in Yemen. Statements made by some diplomats in the Gulf claim that the UAE prefers to have forces and equipment on hand should tensions between the United States and Iran escalate further. After attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Tehran’s downing of a U.S. unmanned drone, very little has been done to dampen fears of a serious crack in the main body of the Saudi-led coalition.
Amid growing feelings of resentment by many Emiratis towards what they deem a costly and rather aimless war with no end or victory in sight, with the notion that hundreds of Emirati officers and soldiers are of Yemeni origin, and in view of mounting international pressure and anger, the UAE’s strongest man, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, seems to have decided he can go no further.
The war in Yemen has killed and maimed tens of thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians, generating the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history. The unprecedented casualties, famine and destruction figures make the conflict in Yemen virtually unwinnable. Therefore, further cracks in the Saudi-led coalition and other pullouts can’t be ruled out in the foreseeable future.
The Emiratis are withdrawing their forces at a scale and speed that all but rules out further ground advances, a belated recognition that a grinding war is drawing closer to an end of sorts. In the past month, the Emiratis have cut their deployment around Hudeida, the Red Sea port that was the war’s main battleground last year, by 80 percent to fewer than 150 men, according to four people briefed on the drawback. They have pulled out their attack helicopters and heavy guns, effectively precluding a military advance on the city.
Four years into the war effort, the war in Yemen has failed to oust the Houthis and has turned Yemen into what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Mike Hindmarsh, a retired Australian major general who commands the Emirati presidential guard, recently told Western visitors that Yemen had become a quagmire where the Houthis were the “Yemeni Viet Cong.”
Regardless of its immediate impact on the cohesion and future of the war alliance, the Emirati drawback is bound to further expose the trouble Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, ( MBS), who is yet to fully recover from the ramifications of the brutal assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October; a crime that has turned much of the world against Saudi atrocities and abysmal human rights record. If left alone in the killing and destruction rampage against Yemeni civilians, the war in Yemen could easily seal the fate of MBS, once and for all.