By: Fred Lambert
ADEN, Yemen, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The United Arab Emirates has deployed a brigade of ground troops, along with tanks and armored vehicles, to assist pro-government forces fighting in Yemen.
Quoting senior Yemeni and U.S. military officials on Monday, The New York Times reports Emirati troops arriving in the country and taking part in an assault on its largest air base.
The al-Anad base, in southern Yemen’s Lahej province, fell to pro-government forces after days of battle with Shia Houthi rebels that caused heavy casualties on both sides, according to Yemen’s defense ministry.
Local reporters told the BBC the Emirati troops were acting in an advisory role, while a Yemeni military official denied they had landed in Aden. The New York Times quoted a senior Yemeni military commander, however, as saying they had a direct role in the attack.
The deployment of Emirati troops into Yemen represents the first major ground involvement by the coalition formed by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis.
The coalition, which also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Egypt, began conducting airstrikes against Houthi positions in March, following advances by the rebels that forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.
The coalition’s efforts have been largely in support of Hadi loyalists, with an ultimate goal of restoring the deposed leader.
In July, pro-Hadi forces, bolstered by coalition airstrikes and armored vehicles supplied by the UAE, captured the southern port of Aden, where an estimated 3,000 Emirati troops are reported to have landed Monday.
Al-Anad lies about 30 miles north of the port city, on a major intersection that provides access to Yemen’s southwestern provinces.
Southern Yemeni commanders told The New York Times small contingents of Saudi and Emirati troops had been fighting in Yemen for the last few weeks, and a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s aggressive intervention was directly linked to their concern over Iran’s expanding influence.
The coalition has accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, of militarily backing the Houthis, which Tehran has denied. The rebels acknowledge an alliance with Iran but deny acting on its behalf.