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Egypt allegedly sends ground forces into Yemen quagmire

Yemen's Ministry of Defence has said that Egyptian soldiers are a part of the coalition campaign against the Houthi rebels
Tanks and armoured vehicles of the Saudi-led coalition began deployment on the outskirts of the Yemeni port city of Aden on 3 August (AFP)

In conflicting reports, officials in Yemen’s government claim that Egypt has sent ground troops to fight alongside government forces, while independent journalists and analysts say that there are no Egyptian soldiers present.

Egyptian ground troops landed in Yemen earlier this week to join the Saudi-led coalition fight against the Iranian-supported Houthis and their allies, Ali Albakly, a spokesman for the Yemeni Ministry of Defence told Middle East Eye on Thursday.

The Egyptians arrived in Aden, part of a 5,000-strong ground troop force which also include Emiratis and Saudi soldiers, the ministry spokesman said.

“Some of the troops will be involved in the protection of public facilities, and part of them will particpate in fighting the Houthi rebels,” Albakly said.

“The war has moved from Aden, and moved within the limits of Lahj. The coalition forces will help us to fight the few Houthi rebels troops in Aden and surrounding areas,” Albakly told MEE.

But Mamdouh Khalifa, a high-level Egyptian military official, denied that Egypt was taking part in a ground war in Yemen.

Speaking exclusively to MEE on Saturday, Khalifa denied that Egypt had sent any of its troops as part of the 5,000 fighters mentioned by al-Bakli. Instead, Khalifa said, Egypt is participating alongside Saudi Arabia with airstrikes, as well as taking part in efforts to protect Bab al-Mandab strait.

Arab officials express hope that the coalition air campaign - which has the support of the US, GCC, Egypt and Turkey - will exhaust the Houthis, who are positioning to oust President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Since the inception of “Operation Golden Arrow” - the coalition’s campaign to retake the port city of Aden – evidence of the presence of coalition land forces has been growing. Three Emirati soldiers have been killed in Yemen, and news sources say Saudi Arabia sent tanks to support government forces.

Yemeni pro-government forces have recaptured Aden, Taiz, the strategic port of Mocha, and Al Anad air base.

Yemenis are waiting impatiently for the recapture of capital Sanaa and Saada, the Houthis’ home region, from where the militia originally advanced on the capital in September 2014. They hope to see life restored to normal after a year of conflict that has seen thousands killed and the destruction of the infrastructure of the country.

According to official coalition sources, Arab troops have arrived in Aden to protect Yemeni public and strategic installations. They will participate with pro-government forces in fighting Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“Three thousand Gulf, Egyptian and Pakistani troops arrived at the port of Aden,” an official source told Al-Khaleej Online.

“The troops will protect Aden, the Yemeni installations and vital facilities,” the source, who declined to be named, told Al-Khaleej Online.

Conflicting reports

However, Wajeeh Al Samman, a Yemeni journalist for the TV station Balqis, denied the presence of the Egyptian troops based in Yemen, claiming that Yemenis won’t accept the presence of foreign troops on the ground.

“The Egyptian position is clear towards the Yemeni war. So, they will not participate by [sending] their troops,” Al Samman told MEE.

“Riyadh wants to activate the role of the Yemeni local forces. As long as the resistance has achieved victories in the South through its youth and its members, it will the first [to lead the fight against the Houthis] in the north,” Samman said.

He added that battle in the north would be harder because of the difficult terrain, the military readiness of the Houthis, and because of the population’s “lack of acceptance of foreign troops on their land”.

“It is natural that we depend on our forces to fight the Houthi rebels in the north, after their victories in the south,” Al Samman added.

“The resistance is now seeking to raise the Yemeni street in the north. It wants the outbreak of the revolt against the rebels,” Al Samman said.

Local newspapers have circulated a story that claims that the Egyptian Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi visited Saudi Arabia to arrange the ground intervention in Yemen between Riyadh and Cairo.

The newspapers quoted unnamed sources as saying that Sobhi told his Saudi counterpart, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that Cairo is ready to provide air, land and naval forces to the coalition campaign in Yemen.

Observers are predicting that Egypt will participate in the Yemen war and will play an important role in the ground war.

Egypt has so far sent six warships to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, carrying Special Forces troops and about a thousand Thunderbolt Marine soldiers.

'No Egyptian forces in Yemen'

Regarding the participation of Emirati forces, Mohammed Ali Marm, who acts as President Hadi’s private secretary, confirmed that "an Emirati military battalion arrived in Aden to protect [Aden] airport”.

“The UAE battalion will also support the Yemeni army in operating the sensitive devices that they are not familiar with using before,” Marm told the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.

For his part, the Egyptian strategy expert Talaat Muslim ruled out the possibility of Egyptian troops participating in the Yemen war.

“Until now, there is no proof of the existence of Egyptian forces in Yemen, despite Egypt announcing that it is part of the Arab coalition. The Egyptian naval forces only protect the Bab Al-Mandab strait,” Muslim told MEE.

“I think that the Egyptian troops will protect Saudi Arabia only if Saudi Arabia is attacked. Egypt shares the same position as Pakistan,” Muslim told MEE.

Finally, the Yemeni army is seeking to train new fighters to join them later. The head of the National Security Agency, Ali Ahmadi, has said that “the training will not last less than 45 days”.

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