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US trained UAE forces for combat in Yemen: Report

Documents reveal US training of UAE pilots deployed 'for combat operations' in Yemen, Yahoo News reports
UAE trainees were deployed in Yemen between 2016 and end of 2017, report says (AFP/File Photo)

Newly obtained documents revealed that the United States, despite past denials, was involved in training United Arab Emirates troops for combat in Yemen, where the UAE is fighting as part of a Saudi-led coalition, Yahoo News reported.

The US Air Forces Central Command documents specifically state that units at the US's Air Warfare Center in Al Dhafra, about 30km south of UAE capital Abu Dhabi, "advanced the UAE's F-16 pilot training program", Yahoo News reported late Wednesday.

Those trainees were then "immediately deployed for combat operations in Yemen" between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017, the news outlet said.

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Additionally, the documents state that the US was involved in an advanced aerial combat training exercise in which American and allied pilots assisted "150 airmen ... to prepare for combat ops in Yemen", Yahoo News said.

The news outlet said it obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

Still, a US Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesperson, as well as a second CENTCOM official, told Yahoo News that the US does not "conduct exercises with members of the [Saudi-led coalition] to prepare for combat operations in Yemen".

The denials echoed statements made last month by General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stressed that the US is “not a participant in the civil war in Yemen nor are we supporting one side or the other", as reported at the time by US media.

Still, the Yahoo News report comes amid heightened pressure on President Donald Trump's administration to end US involvement in the war in Yemen, which has left thousands on the brink of starvation and caused a cholera outbreak.

Key US ally in the region

Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign in Yemen in 2015 to root out the country's Houthi rebels, who had taken over the capital, Sanaa, and ousted the internationally recognised and Saudi-backed government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The US military has since provided intelligence sharing and training to the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE.

The Pentagon had also been conducting air-to-air refuelling for coalition aircraft, but in November said it would stop.

In December, the US Senate voted to halt Washington's assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, marking the first time that the US Congress has invoked the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which gives it the power to withdraw US involvement from wars it has not authorised.

While a parallel effort in the US House of Representatives was shot down by the Republican leadership last year, the Senate-approved measure is expected to move forward in the now-Democratic controlled House.

Trump's administration pushed hard against the Senate's Yemen resolution by sending US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Secretary of Defence James Mattis in late November to brief lawmakers on Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The senior officials insisted that Washington must maintain its support for the Saudi-led coalition and described Riyadh as a key US ally in the region.