Military forces of the United Arab Emirates have started a withdrawal from the conflict in Yemen, Emirati officials said, leaving Saudi Arabia to fight Houthi rebels.
For four years, the UAE has provided weapons, funding, training and at least 5,000 troops to a cause which props up Yemen’s government but has killed thousands of civilians but resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis. In the past month, the Emerati deployment at rebel-held Hodeidah, Yemen’s major port, has been reduced from 750 to 150, and helicopters and heavy artillery have been removed.
An unidentified Emerati official noted that the UAE, despite its departure from the battlefield, has trained 90,000 Yemeni soldiers to fill their absence.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE began an intervention in Yemen in 2015, with the support of the United States, to defeat an attempted takeover of the government by the Houthis, a rebel group with Iranian support, and to restore Yemen’s recognized government. After four years, the Houthis have not been removed, the war has become a quagmire and the United Nations has called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Since the start of the war, the number of UAE troops in Yemen has been low, and has consisted largely of officers, trainers and consultants, although 45 Yemeni troops died in a missile attack in 2015. Despite the alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran-backed rebels, economic ties between Iran and the UAE have remained intact, with $20 billion in trade volume between the two countries. Additionally, over a half million Iranians live in the Emirates, which has a population of 9.6 million.
The removal of UAE in Yemen potentially leaves Saudi Arabia, and other, smaller forces in the anti-Houthi coalition, with bearing the consequences of the war, and if it ever comes, the peace.