Fighters of the UAE-trained Security Belt Force, dominated by members of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) which seeks independence for south Yemen, are pictured on the outskirts of the Abyan province in southern Yemen on August 29, 2019
The United Arab Emirates has confirmed launching air strikes on Yemen’s interim capital Aden targeting “terrorist militias” after the government there announced the raids hit its troops.
A foreign ministry statement late Thursday said “precise and direct air strikes” on Wednesday and Thursday hit the militias.
The Abu Dhabi statement added that the militias had planned to target a Saudi-led military coalition, of which the UAE is a key member, backing the Yemen government against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.
The UAE said it acted in “self-defence” after attacks by “armed groups affiliated with terrorist organisations”.
“The military operation against the terrorist militias was based on confirmed field intelligence that the militias prepared to target the coalition forces — a development which required a preemptive operation to avert any military threat,” it said.
“The strikes against the Arab Coalition were launched by armed groups affiliated with terrorist organisations. These armed groups attacked the Arab Coalition at Aden Airport, causing two injuries to the coalition forces,” it added.
“Accordingly, the Coalition responded as per their right of self-defence to protect the security of their forces,” said the statement which was carried by the Emirates’ official WAM news agency.
The UAE accusation risks straining an already complex conflict in Yemen.
On Thursday Yemen’s government accused the UAE of launching air strikes in Aden in support of Emirati-backed separatists who say they have regained control of the southern city.
“The Yemeni government condemns the Emirati air strikes against government forces in the interim capital Aden and in Zinjibar, which resulted in civilian and military casualties,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hadhrami said in a tweet.
Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iryani later tweeted that the alleged UAE strikes had killed 40 combatants and wounded 70 civilians.
Abu Dhabi has trained and supported secessionists who seek an independent southern Yemen, despite being a key pillar in the coalition backing the government against the Huthi rebels.
The foreign ministry said “terrorist cells started to accelerate their activity across Yemeni territories” over the past week, citing reports by the UAE’s intelligence department.
Such activity, it said, “poses (a) menacing threat to the strides made by the Arab coalition to uproot the scourge of terrorism in Yemen (and) also threatens the efforts made by the coalition to combat the Huthi militia”.
The foreign ministry did not identify the “terrorist militias” it claimed to have targeted.
The statement came hours after the Emirati-backed separatists regained control of Aden on Thursday, forcing government troops who had entered the city a day early to withdraw, officials on both sides said.
The government on Wednesday said it had seized back Aden from separatists who captured the strategic city on August 10 after a fierce battle that left at least 40 people dead.
The fighting has opened a new front in a complex war that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and sparked what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis
The coalition intervened in the war in 2015 in support of the government after the Huthis swept south from their northern stronghold to seize the capital Sanaa and much of Yemen — the Arab world’s poorest nation.
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