War by other means: UAE declares Yemen 'withdrawal' but keeps militias and military bases
"We do have troop levels that are down for reasons that are strategic in (the Red Sea city of) Hodeida and reasons that are tactical" in other parts of the country, a senior UAE official told reporters.
"It is very much to do with moving from what I would call a military first strategy to a peace first strategy, and this is I think what we are doing.”
In late June, a Reuters report said UAE, a prime ally in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, is to scale back its military efforts in the war in Yemen to focus on security threats posed by US-Iran tensions which have bubbled over in close proximity to the wealthy Gulf nation.
The Gulf state, which has triggered anger among Yemen's government for its activities in the south of the country, will withdraw some troops from the port of Aden and Yemen’s west coast, diplomatic sources said, having established teams of local fighters who will continue battling Houthi-aligned forces on the ground.
The diplomats revealed that the Emirati leadership now requires its troops and equipment close to hand in case US-Iran tensions escalate further after a series of attacks on tankers in and around the Emirates, as well as Tehran shooting down a American drone in recent weeks, culminated in the US almost launching airstrikes against Iran.
“It is true that there have been some troop movements ... but it is not a redeployment from Yemen,” a senior Emirati official told Reuters.
They added that the UAE remains fully committed to the Saudi-led coalition and “will not leave a vacuum” in Yemen.
No details on the movements of number of troops being withdrawn were given in the report, however a Western diplomat said “a lot” of Emirati forces were pulled from Yemen over the past three weeks.
However, an Emirati official claimed that the withdrawal was a “natural progression” as the coalition attempts to implement a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida, where fighting has raged for many months.
'Undermining the government'
However, on the back of these reports sources claimed that Abu Dhabi is now building up a huge militia force to sustain military efforts on the ground.
Another aim of the militia army will be to undermine the authority of the internationally-recognised government led by Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, The New Arab's Arabic-language daily reported.
Military and government sources in Yemen have revealed to The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the UAE have been funding and equipping militias belonging to the secessionist Southern Transitional Council in order to install pro-Emirati factions in areas seized from Houthi control.
The UAE, who supported the establishment of the Southern Transitional Council in 2017, has led a drive to form dozens of military brigades and several military hubs across southern Yemen in recent months.
These initiatives have angered the Hadi government who see this as an attempt by Abu Dhabi to usurp control from the legitimate Yemeni leadership.
The newly established brigades have been concentrated in areas that formerly surrounded the North-South Yemen border prior to its unification in 1990, including the provinces of Lahj, Aden, Dhali, Abyan and Yafa.
Sources close to the Southern Transitional Council leadership revealed that the UAE directed them to form a parallel army to that of the Hadi government, consisting of between 25 and 35 brigades based in southern Yemen, which it fully supports and readily arms.
Each brigade consists of around 1,500 troops, meaning the militia army may be 52,000-strong.
In context, government forces are said to number around 200,000, however many suspect these figures are inflated.
Abu Dhabi has also entrusted a team of Emirati officers and members of the Transitional Council to head up the efforts in southern Yemen, according to the sources.
The militia brigades have been ordered to take control of the southern provinces and their resources, in order to secure former border areas while expelling government forces from these areas.
The support from the UAE comes in the form of hundreds of armoured vehicles and machinery, as well as military training centres. Sources from the Hadi leadership also accused the Emiratis of spreading negative propaganda about the internationally-recognised government.
Sources in the Hadi government also complained that the UAE has set up so-called "commando brigades" of militia fighters that have taken over the fighting and leadership on the front lines, in an attempt to push government forces out and leave them with no role in the conflict.
They also say the UAE pays the salaries of the militia brigades in Saudi riyals, in order to persuade Yemeni citizens to join their ranks over those of the government.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 when President Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last remaining territory in and around second city Aden.
Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.
It has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 24 million Yemenis - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.
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