Today is a day of national pride for everyone in the UAE, as the country celebrates the Emirati troops who served, and sometimes lost their lives, to support Yemen and its people.
For almost five years, the brave servicemen fought alongside our allies in the Saudi-led Arab Coalition to help restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government against an Iran-backed insurrection, while also countering the spread of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Among their many achievements was the liberation of the war-torn country’s temporary capital of Aden in 2015.
This truly was a “mission to restore hope”, in the words of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. And indeed, Emirati soldiers can be proud of having lived up to their duties.
Last summer, the UAE announced that it was re-deploying its troops in Yemen, with the conflict entering a new phase that would hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The Yemeni government now controls 80 per cent of the country, and Emirati troops have trained 90,000 government fighters, empowering Aden to counter terrorist threats efficiently and lessen its reliance on foreign help.
The UAE and Yemen have a historic bond, and the two Arab nations share the same language, culture and values. Given these long-standing ties, it comes as no surprise that Emirati soldiers and others in the Arab Coalition have stood by Yemenis in their time of need.
They have also protected us, in the Arabian peninsula and beyond, from the threat of extremist groups that thrive in times of war. Instability in Yemen has proved to be fertile ground for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, a dangerous branch of the terrorist group. AQAP has a history of mounting bloody local and international attacks, having taken advantage of the Houthi insurgency to rule over pockets of land. AQAP masterminded the 2015 attacks on the office of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which cost a dozen people their lives. The group also attempted to detonate explosives inside an American plane in 2009. The UAE has helped undermine the group's expansion and hinder its ability to stage such attacks. Members of the Arab Coalition have also prevented the group from terrorising innocent Yemenis, who are often their primary targets. In 2013, an attack by AQAP on Yemen's Ministry of Defence killed at least 52 people.
Emirati soldiers can pride themselves in having curbed the threat of extremism, which loomed not only over Yemen, but on the region and the world at large. The UAE government also helped civilians cope with the hardships of war in a conflict that has been decried by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It has provided more than $5 billion in aid to Yemen since the onset of the war, assisting six in 10 Yemenis in every part of the country, including areas governed by rebels.
Emirati troops in Yemen have fought intolerance, extremism and armed rebels that sought to undermine the region’s safety and the well-being of its people. Their hard work, dedication and courage truly embodies “the spirit of the UAE”, in Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed's words, and reflects the core values of this country.