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UAE Withdraws Troops from Hodeidah

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Food aid ship alongside at the port of Hodeidah, Yemen (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-07-09 19:00:47

The United Arab Emirates has confirmed that it is withdrawing its forces from the contested port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, handing over its positions to its allies in the Yemeni government. The move has been previously reported by observers on the ground, but a UAE official told reporters Monday that the movements do represent a drawdown. 

"It is very much to do with moving from what I would call a military-first strategy to a peace-first strategy," the official told Al Jazeera. 

UAE forces still remain in many other areas of Yemen, and tens of thousands of UAE-trained and -equipped Yemeni government troops remain on the ground, with support from Saudi forces. The Saudi government was involved in the drawdown discussion, the official said. 

The UAE's decision aligns with a UN-brokered agreement for the Houthi forces to hand over control of Hodeidah's port facilities to the Yemeni Coast Guard in exchange for a promise by coalition forces to withdraw from positions on the city's edge. The transfer of oversight has now occurred at the port, and demilitarization of the facility is under way. Skirmishes and shelling on the outskirts of Hodeidah have continued, but at a reduced level. 

The port is essential to aid agencies' efforts to provide food and medical care for the Yemeni population, as the country's long-running civil war has created shortages of many basic necessities. U.N. aid officials have repeatedly warned that a fight for control of Hodeidah could plunge portions of the country into famine. An estimated 24 million people - about eighty percent of the population - needs some form of assistance, according to Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

The UAE's troop drawdown also coincides with rising tensions nearer to home. Four tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz in May and June, and while the UAE has declined to name a suspect, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel blame Iran, which is in the process of ramping up its nuclear enrichment program. Tehran has periodically threatened to close the Strait to merchant traffic unless the United States lifts crippling economic sanctions on Iran's energy, shipping and financial sectors. Analysts suggest that the UAE's repositioning of its troops may also be a precaution in the event of a potential outbreak of hostilities near the Strait.