UAE Troop Drawdown: Beginning of the End for Yemen War

August 4, 2019

TEHRAN - The United Arab Emirates has been forced to withdraw its occupying troops from Yemen in coordination with key ally Saudi Arabia. This should mark the beginning of the end for the failed US-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The UAE, a leading member of the Western-backed Arab coalition battling the Ansarullah movement, is reducing its military presence after almost five years of failed war on the poorest country in the Arab world. The Persian Gulf state has pulled many troops from areas including the Southern port of Aden and the Western coast, but claims it remains committed to the ousted government of president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The drawdown was not a last-minute decision and had been discussed extensively with Riyadh. It came after the failed attempt to defeat the resistance movement of Ansarullah amid international condemnations for the ongoing human rights violations and war crimes in the war-torn country by the Saudi-led coalition.

Indeed, behind the drawdown is a disastrous failure of decision-making that led to the war on Yemen in 2015; the signature initiative of the Crown Prince MBS. Thanks to his leadership, Saudi cities and infrastructure are now targets for a once-ragged army that has developed increasingly sophisticated drones and missiles. The war is the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.

The Trump administration’s decision to sell billions in arms to Riyadh without congressional approval has only encouraged the crown prince to continue the quagmire too. The Saudis are not more capable of winning the war with more munitions. The American support has singularly helped in five years to support the Saudis in bombing civilian targets or increasing the carnage of the war. Children are the most at risk and are paying a horrible cost.

On the other hand, the war on Yemen has exposed the tenuous nature of Saudi Arabia’s relationships with its principal Muslim allies. The most important of them, Pakistan, surprisingly refused to send its army to assist the regime. The Sisi government in Egypt also refused to send large numbers of ground troops to participate in the fighting. Instead, Cairo sent a small contingent of several hundred soldiers and three to four ships to assist Riyadh.

And in recent instances, even those countries that agreed to participate in the Saudi-led campaign developed conflicts of interest with Riyadh over the course of the fighting; for example, the Saudis and the Emiratis are backing forces that are at odds over the future of Yemen and this has created friction that has at times erupted into violence between local actors.

In the prevailing environment, expect the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen to be forced more into a stalemate following the UAE’s decision. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had promised a swift campaign in what has now become one of the fiercest battles in the devastating conflict. Their initially stated goal was a total defeat of Ansarullah in Yemen, but after a couple of years they changed their claim, and said their goal is to cut off the Ansarullah’s main supply line and force them back to the North. However, little progress has been made since the campaign was launched, as the country is heavily defended by land and sea.

Last but not the least, the Saudi coalition’s inability to win or even to advance in Yemen has a two-pronged diagnosis: The fact that the Ansarullah are well-situated to repel foreign fighting forces; and the fact that the Saudi military suffers from its own systemic ineffectiveness and divisions – for instance, the UAE’s failed efforts to bring its power to bear in the fight war and its recent decision to withdraw. 

Which is to say: The illegal war on Yemen has been a disaster for all involved parties, and so ending it is both the smart thing to do as well as the right thing to do under international law and UN Charter. And because American interference is most successful in regions that suffer from conflict or insecurity, ending the war has the added benefit of potentially weakening the War Party’s ability to meddle in regional affairs.

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