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UAE says it will pull troops from Yemen in shift to 'peace-first' strategy

An Emirati official did not specify whether the troop drawback included local militias it had trained
Emirati fighters from the Saudi-backed coalition forces on Yemen's west coast frontline board a helicopter at a military base in Khokhain, in January 2019 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates said on Monday it was winding down its involvement in Yemen as it pledged to reduce troop numbers in the war-torn country.

The announcement came as a spokesperson in Abu Dhabi told reporters that the country was shifting from a "military-first strategy" to a "peace-first strategy" in Yemen where Emirati forces have fought as part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels since 2015.

Speaking to reporters, the senior Emirati official said the decision to reduce troop numbers was "tactical" after nearly four years of fighting. 

"We do have troop levels that are down for reasons that are strategic in [the Red Sea city of] Hodeidah and reasons that are tactical," in other parts of the country, the official said.

"It is very much to do with moving from what I would call a military-first strategy to a peace-first strategy, and this is I think what we are doing."

The official did not specify whether the UAE would continue supporting local militias which it had deployed during the course of the war. 

UAE troops 'vacate' military base in Khoka 

Yemeni government officials told AFP on Monday that UAE troops had "totally vacated" the military base in Khoka.

They added that the UAE withdrew part of its heavy artillery from Khoka but was still overseeing the military situation in Yemen's western coast. 

The Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said UAE troops vacated a military post in Sarwah, west of Marib province, and pulled back the Patriot missile system from the area.

This latest announcement comes after Western diplomatic sources told Reuters in June that the UAE was scaling back its military presence because of worsening US-Iran tensions threatening local security.

The diplomats said that the UAE had pulled some troops from the southern port of Aden and Yemen's western coast. Emirati officials admitted that there had been some troop movement but denied that it was related to worsening US-Iran tensions.

The latest statement also comes after hundreds of UAE-backed Yemeni forces, who were trained by the Emiratis, were dispatched to the small island of Socotra. 

The arrival of the UAE-backed Yemeni forces earlier this month on Socotra fuelled protests and further divided residents of the island. 

The UAE has been a key partner in the Saudi-led coalition inside Yemen. Other members of the coalition include Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan.  

The exact amount of UAE troops stationed in Yemen is unknown but the Emiratis have funded several militias to fight on its behalf. Among the militia groups funded by the UAE include the National Resistsance Forces led by General Tariq Muhammad Abdullah Saleh, nephew of the late president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

The Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered a humanitarian crisis that has left millions of people on the brink of starvation.