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Yemen: Saudi-led coalition claims responsibility for mysterious island airbase

Saudi-led coalition says it has boosted military presence on a strategic Red Sea island to counter threats to maritime trade from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement
A Saudi official on Thursday dismissed reports UAE forces were responsible for bases on the Yemeni Islands of Socotra and Mayyun as "baseless and unfounded". (AFP/file photo/Socotra Island, 11 February 2021)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in the Yemen war has confirmed that it was behind the construction of a military airbase on an island in the Bab al-Mandab strait, contradicting reports suggesting that the United Arab Emirates was behind the build-up.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press published satellite images showing “a mysterious airbase” with a 1.85km runway alongside three hangars on Mayyun island, also known as Perim. While the report stated that no country had laid claim to the airbase, it cited Yemeni officials who said that the UAE was behind the military build-up on the island. 

Mayyun island sits at the mouth of the Red Sea on one of the world’s major maritime trade routes for energy shipments and commercial cargo. It was captured by the Saudi-led coalition in 2015.

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In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, called the reports “baseless and unfounded” and said that all equipment currently on the island is under the control of the coalition.

“Some reports in the media with regard to the presence of UAE forces on the Islands of Socotra and Mayyun (Perim) are baseless and unfounded.”

“[They] are situated there in order to enable the Yemeni legitimacy forces and coalition forces to counter the Houthi militia, secure maritime navigation, and support the West Coast forces,” read the statement, citing an unnamed official.

“The current UAE efforts are focused within Coalition forces on providing air support in defence of Ma’rib.

"We reaffirm that respecting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Yemen is at the top of the established and fundamental principles of the Coalition.”

Emirati authorities have not commented on the reports. The Gulf state withdrew most of its forces from Yemen in 2019 but maintains influence through fighters it has armed and trained.

The Saudi-led intervention followed the seizure of the Yemeni capital Sanaa by the Ansar Allah movement, known as the Houthis, in 2014, forcing the president to flee the country. The conflict has been in a stalemate for years with the Iran-aligned Houthis holding most large urban areas.

The war has killed more than 230,000 people in Yemen, according to the United Nations (UN), caused outbreaks of disease, and brought the country to the brink of famine, in what the UN has described as the world's "worst humanitarian crisis".

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