After a military withdrawal, Saudi Arabia says 'small teams' of coalition troops will remain on the ground to help build Yemen's army
Saudi Arabia declared on Thursday that it plans to scale back military operations in Yemen after the death toll of a recent air strike in Sanaa increased to 119 people, including 22 children.
However, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri told the Associated Press that the Saudi-led coalition would continue to provide air support to forces supporting Yemen’s government and its allies.
“The aim of the coalition is to create a strong, cohesive government with a strong national army and security forces that can combat terrorism and impose law and order across the country,” said Asiri.
The spokesman did not divulge any details on when the withdrawal is to take place or what it specifically entails.
But he said “small” teams of coalition troops are to remain on the ground to “equip, train and advise” Yemeni forces battling the Houthi rebels. He also emphasised that the coalition’s primary duty is to build a Yemeni army.
“This takes time and it needs patience,” he said.
Scaling down military operations, Asiri added, does not include the coalition’s naval and air assets along Yemen’s coastline, particularly on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea.
The White House welcomed Saudi Arabia’s pledge to wind down the coalition's war in Yemen.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House welcomed Assiri's statement that the year-old campaign was nearing the "end of the major combat phase".
Saudi-led air strikes on a market killed 119 people in northern Yemen's rebel-held Hajja province, the United Nations said on Thursday, nearly three times the previously reported death toll.
Among those killed in Mastaba district on Tuesday were 22 children, and another 47 people were wounded, the UNICEF children's agency said.
It is one of the highest death tolls since the Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign in support of the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi against Houthi fighters and their allies in March last year.
A UNICEF spokesman said the casualty figures were preliminary and that an investigation was ongoing.
A coalition spokesman acknowledged a strike in the area, saying planes had targeted "a militia gathering" in a place for buying and selling qat, a mild narcotic that is chewed throughout Yemen.
The coalition has promised to launch an investigation into allegations that the attack caused a large number of civilian casualties