DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged Monday to keep their floundering coalition war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels together after an Emirati troop pullout and the rise of the southern separatists they supported.
The joint communique came as the Houthis launched at least six ballistic missiles and two drone attacks into Saudi Arabia, keeping up its pressure on the kingdom as online infighting between the Emirati and Saudi intelligentsia exposed growing cracks between the usually lockstep oil-rich nations.
The statement, carried by both the Emirati and Saudi state news agencies, said both nations’ “political, military, relief and development efforts” would continue. It also said the countries both rejected and condemned the “accusations and defamation campaigns targeting the UAE” since its decision in June to begin withdrawing troops.
The UAE, an autocratic federation of seven sheikhdoms home to Dubai, has not publicly acknowledged how many troops it withdrew from Yemen. Yemeni officials have suggested Emirati troop strength has dropped by as much as 75% out of around 10,000 troops.
The Emirati withdrawal followed rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, suggesting Abu Dhabi worried about having forces at home in case an armed conflict broke out.
While Emirati troops often weren’t directly involved in front-line combat, they organized local forces and handled intelligence operations in Yemen’s south. Those forces included separatists seeking their own nation who have swept into areas to seize control from Yemen’s internationally recognized government, leading to clashes between the supposed allies erupting earlier this month.
Yemen’s government on Monday ordered its forces to implement a cease fire in the southern provinces of Aden, Abyan and Shabwa in response to a call by the Saudi-led coalition, according to the Yemeni information minister, Moammar al-Iryani.
The UAE-backed southern separatists welcomed the Saudi-Emirati joint statement and declared a cease fire in oil-rich Shabwa province, where government forces had wrested control of the capital, Ataq, from the separatists on Friday. The separatists still control the key city of Aden and nearby Abyan province.
The withdrawal of Emirati forces drew derision from Saudi-allied intellectuals online. The kingdom, itself an autocracy, has a tightly controlled media that has whipped up nationalistic fervor since the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Mohammed is thought to be very close to Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In recent days, even the foreign minister of Bahrain, an island nation closely tied to Saudi Arabia, stepped into the fray to say on Twitter that the spilled blood of Emirati war dead “is not erased by statements that deny it.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said it intercepted six ballistic missiles and two drones launched by the Houthis into the kingdom. The Houthis earlier said they launched 10 missiles. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy contributed from Cairo.