Saudi military forces have reportedly moved in to be deployed in two strategic Red Sea ports and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait after the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key part of the Saudi-led military coalition, said it was going ahead with plans to reduce the number of troops in Yemen.
Yemeni military officials and officials from Saudi-backed former regime, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saudi officers have taken command of military bases at the ports of al-Mokha, situated 346 kilometers south of the capital Sana’a, and al-Khokha, which Emirati forces used to support their operations in the strategic coastal city of Hudaydah.
Saudi troops have also been dispatched to the southern Yemeni port city of Aden as well as the volcanic island of Perim in the Strait of Mandeb.
An unnamed senior Emirati official told reporters on Monday that the Persian Gulf country was planning troop drawdown in Yemen in what was claimed to be a shift from a military strategy to a “peace” plan instead.
He added, “We do have troop levels that are down for reasons that are strategic in (the Red Sea city of) Hudaydah and reasons that are tactical” in other parts of the country.
“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,” the Emirati official asserted.
In late June, Western diplomatic sources said the UAE was mulling over scaling back its military efforts in the war in Yemen to focus on threats posed by the rising US-Iran tensions.
The UAE has triggered anger among loyalists to Yemen’s ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi for its activities on Socotra Island in the Arabian Sea.
Emirati cargo flights have unloaded tanks, armored transports and heavy equipment on the scenery island.
Hadi loyalists say the UAE, which has been part of the Saudi-led coalition pounding Yemen, had abandoned an initial cause of fighting Houthis, and is instead providing support to those seeking a separation of southern Yemeni territories from the north of the country.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of Hadi back to power and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi-led war has claimed the lives of over 60,000 Yemenis since January 2016.
The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.