How America facilitates the UAE's occupation of southern Yemen

How America facilitates the UAE's occupation of southern Yemen
Comment: Washington's backing of Abu Dhabi is emboldening Al Qaeda and southern separatists alike, writes Jonathan Fenton-Harvey.
5 min read
28 Feb, 2019
The UAE has trained at least 60,000 militia fighters in Yemen [AFP]
Medieval torture methods, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, empowerment of Salafist groups and figures, and foreign military occupation of their country. Just a few of the things afflicting Yemenis as the United Arab Emirates expands its influence in southern Yemen, thanks to the help of the United States.

The UAE has used its position in the anti-Houthi coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, as an opportunity to fulfill its long-term ambitions to control southern Yemen's resources and the port city of Aden, which would expand Abu Dhabi's global maritime trade and give it greater access to East Africa.

Though part of Saudi Arabia's coalition on paper, it has divergent aims, as the Saudi-backed President Abdrabbo Mansur Hadi actually hinders the UAE's ambitions to control Aden.

While other countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Belgium sell the UAE weapons and provide military support, the United States plays a larger and more direct role in facilitating Emirati control of south Yemen.
The militias are not accountable to the Yemeni government, but to the Emiratis, and are actually paid regularly
Under the guise of "counter-extremism" against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State group in Yemen - as well as previously fighting the Houthis - the UAE has trained more than 60,000 militia fighters, who are concentrated largely in southern coastal and commercial cities such as Aden, Mukalla and Mokha.

These territories were seized during Yemen's ongoing war.

The militias are not accountable to the Yemeni government, but to the Emiratis, and are actually paid regularly - unlike Hadi-controlled troops - while rivalling them in number, suggesting they are the stronger force.

Now the Houthis no longer occupy the south, the UAE's militias supposedly fight extremist factions. Instead, they mainly consolidate the UAE's presence in the south.

More recently, US-supplied armoured vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns, including M-ATV, Caiman and MaxxPro models, have been documented in the hands of UAE-backed militias, including those called Security Belt, Shabwani elite forces, Hadrami elite forces and "The Giants".

Billions of dollars' worth of American weapons have been sold to the UAE, from firms such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon; many of which are siphoned off to these various militias. Abu Dhabi recently purchased $1.9 billion worth of weapons from such companies, indicating USA-UAE cooperation is set to continue.

The US denies any involvement in training Emirati ground forces. General Joseph F Dunford Jr, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed in December that the United States was "not a participant in the civil war in Yemen, nor are we supporting one side or the other".

However, a CENTCOM document reported by Yahoo! News also reveals that the US has taken a direct role in training UAE forces and air fighters specifically for "combat operations in Yemen". America clearly therefore plays a direct role in facilitating the UAE's geopolitical ambitions.

Due to recent growing awareness of US complicity in the UAE's military campaign, raised by Amnesty International and others, one top US general said officials would investigate if weapons were transferred to unintended recipients in the conflict.

These UAE-backed militias have carried out
abuses against civilians and excessive force in raids, and have set up numerous secret prisons across southern Yemen. These dungeons see torture, sexual abuse, and various punishments such as hanging detainees from ceilings and what is called 'the grill' – where people are literally spit-roasted over a fire.

Yemeni prisoners in these facilities have described the presence of US personnel during their interrogation, sometimes taking part in the torture. America now admits that US troops are stationed in the facilities too. Even UAE-backed guards in these prisons have been seen with American weapons and tanks. Given these reports, America is, with full knowledge of what it is doing, aiding human rights abuses in Yemen.

Even more controversially, American weapons have ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda - as delivered by the UAE, as
CNN and Associated Press have both documented.

Supporting Al Qaeda has given the UAE more reason to expand its presence in Yemen and increase its influence. Meanwhile, some Al Qaeda-aligned figures are gaining political power with UAE support, including Hani bin Breik, who is now the vice-president of the prominent Southern Transitional Council (STC), the UAE-backed secessionist movement.

The STC could play a significant future role in Yemeni politics, especially if it gains an independent state of South Yemen, and as a UAE-backed faction it would give Abu Dhabi freer access to the port of Aden and the rest of the region if it gained power.

The UAE has also supported the Al-Qaeda-aligned Abu Al-Abbas militia, which has also raised money for Al Qaeda and seeks to impose a Salafist form of rule over Taiz, similar to Al Qaeda's ideology. Al-Abbas would help the UAE control the city, keeping out unfriendly forces such as the Houthis or Al-Islah (Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood branch).

Though the US placed Al-Abbas on its terrorism list in 2017, its support for the UAE goes against its commitments to counter-terrorism, as does the impunity awarded to the UAE, which enables Al-Qaeda's expansion.

In targeting al-Islah, the UAE
hired US mercenaries to assassinate top figures. This revelation further highlights US-UAE cooperation, which also helps the Emiratis crush all opposition to their rule.

While US lawmakers and senators are pressuring the Trump administration to end military support to Saudi Arabia over Yemen, which could eventually lead to Riyadh scaling back its bombing campaign, far less attention is given to Washington's enabling of the UAE's occupation of south Yemen.

The US therefore needs to address whether its connection with Abu Dhabi over Yemen - which also undermines the current UN-led peace talks for the country - is unlawful due to Emirati support for extremists. And if such support does anything but add further complexities and divisions to Yemeni politics in the future - unless that support is halted.

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey is a freelance journalist. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jfentonharvey 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.