UAE Confirms Withdrawal from Port City of Hodeidah
July 09: The United Arab Emirates has announced a “strategic redeployment” from the port city of Hodeidah in Yemen, as well as a more limited tactical retreat elsewhere in the country – marking a significant moment in Yemen’s four-year civil war.
UAE officials said the move, under discussion for as long as a year, was designed to support a United Nations-led peace process that began in Stockholm last December. It was the first official UAE confirmation of a withdrawal, which has been reported in recent weeks by witnesses and foreign officials.
The officials said the UAE would remain in the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in 2015 to try to restore the Yemeni government ousted from power by the Houthis, a rebel group backed by Iran.
Oversight would be passed to Emirati-trained local Yemeni forces and foreign mercenaries, and UAE forces remaining in Yemen would focus on counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaida and Islamic State rather than the battle against the Houthis. The UAE would also continue to support a secessionist movement in southern Yemen.
Analysts have warned it is not yet clear whether local troops and Saudi coalition partners are up to the task of filling the vacuum, sparking fears that the current stalemate in much of the country could be upended.
The UAE drawdown also weakens Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities in Yemen, adding to pressure for Riyadh to proactively pursue a political rather than military solution to the war.
The withdrawal had been extensively discussed with Riyadh as well as the UN-recognised Yemen government based in Aden, the officials added.
The UAE may be braced for accusations that the withdrawal is an admission of defeat, but the officials insisted the redeployment was a considered move reflecting the diplomatic progress being made by the UN in the strategically important Hodeidah.
Hodeidah became a major focus of the war last year when the western-backed Saudi-led coalition tried to seize the port, which is the Houthis’ main supply line.
In December the UN brokered a complex ceasefire in the city in which both the Yemeni government and Houthi forces were supposed to withdraw, leaving a new security force to take over the port and the city.
Only parts of that withdrawal agreement have been implemented. The UAE said it was keen to see the peace process expanded towards a wider peace settlement with deadlines covering the whole country.
The officials denied that the move would create a dangerous vacuum around Hodeidah, arguing that there were as many as 19,000 Yemeni troops in the port city area if progress towards a settlement collapsed.
In 2018, by contrast, the UAE had argued that the military capture of Hodeidah would force the Houthis to the negotiating table.
The international community pressed the UAE and the Saudis to wait outside the city, warning that an assault could lead to a bloodbath and disruption at the port could tip the country into full-blown famine.
Emirati officials have also dismissed suggestions that the drawdown reflects a growing rift between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh: their military and political leaders have long differed on preferred strategy in both the bloody impasse in Yemen and dealing with the threat posed to Gulf interests from Tehran.
UAE officials refused to go into details of precise troop movements and said some of the withdrawals were tactical, and so could be reversed. Witnesses have said a large-scale drawdown of troops and heavy weaponry is under way in Marib province and the interim capital of Aden as well as Hodeidah.
Last week, Reuters reported it had been told by three diplomats that Abu Dhabi preferred to have its forces and equipment on hand should tension between the US and Iran escalate further after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Tehran’s suspected downing of a US drone. Those tanker attacks have been ascribed to Iranian surrogates, but no final attribution has been made by the UAE. On Monday the UAE officials said the timing was not linked to those developments.