Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 9 News List

UAE extends military reach, influence in Yemen and Somalia

By Noah Browning and Alexander Cornwell  /  Reuters, ABU DHABI

The vast majority — more than 100 — fell in the three-year-old war the UAE is fighting in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia against the Iranian-aligned Houthis.

Saudi Arabia’s main ally in the conflict, Yemen’s heavily Islamic government, is struggling against the Houthis, who control the north of the country and the capital, Sana’a.

The UAE, which has made the only visible gains by the coalition along the southwestern coast, has adopted a different strategy and cultivated its own friends in the war.

Across a string of small bases from the volcanic island of Perim at the mouth of the Red Sea to the dunes of Rumah near the Omani border, the UAE pays salaries and trains troops.

At the beginning of the Yemen war, the UAE prized from Iran’s orbit a struggling secessionist movement that hopes to revive the former state of South Yemen.

The socialist movement’s leaders left Yemen after the north and south were unified in 1994, and wound up in Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, from where they ran a low-level insurgency in Yemen, diplomatic and southern political sources said.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials and Hezbollah schooled the southern commanders in guerrilla tactics in the hopes of destabilizing Saudi Arabia’s southern flank, the sources said.

However, when the Houthis advanced into southern Yemen in 2015, promises of assistance from the UAE convinced the southern leadership to move to Abu Dhabi from where they could carry on the fight for their Yemeni homeland.

“They want to fight Iranian militias trying to seize our lands, and we do too. This is enough for the alliance to make sense for now,” a southern official told reporters.

The alliance helped the UAE seize the southern port of Aden in 2015. The UAE trained southern Yemeni forces who captured the other main port, Mukalla, from al-Qaeda.

Riyan Airport in Mukalla, Yemen, closed to commercial flights, now hosts Emirati helicopters, a training center, a detention facility and a small contingent of US special forces helping to fight al-Qaeda in the nearby mountains.

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on any involvement with the southern Yemeni secessionists. Hezbollah also declined to comment.

Raids by “Somalian pirates” on trade routes along the Horn of Africa helped draw the UAE, home to the Middle East’s busiest port, into the tangled politics of Somalia, which has grappled for more than a decade with al-Shabaab militants.

The UAE is deepening ties with the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland after state-owned Emirati firms DP World and P&O Ports signed deals there in 2016 and last year.

UAE troops quickly followed, and have begun building a military base in Berbera, Somaliland, Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi told reporters while on a visit to Abu Dhabi.

“It will be the guarantee for our security, for our development in any case of terrorism... They have the resources and knowledge better than us. We are a nation after a war, rebuilding,” he said.

The relationship — which includes investing hundreds of millions of US dollars in Somaliland for projects such as a highway to Ethiopia and a new airport — has angered the central government in Somalia, and the UAE has ended its military training mission in Mogadishu.

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