Research: Publications

US Arms Transfers to the UAE and the War In Yemen

September 27, 2017 | Report

By William D. Hartung

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The central role of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the war in Yemen has yet to receive the attention it deserves. The role of Saudi Arabia in the Arab military coalition’s air campaign, which has killed thousands of civilians, has rightly drawn criticism from the United Nations, human rights and humanitarian groups, and key members of Congress.  But the UAE, another key member of the Arab military coalition, has also harmed substantial numbers of civilians, from its role in the air and ground wars, to its alleged involvement in torture, to its role in the naval blockade that has impeded supplies of urgently needed food and medical supplies.  As the primary source of arms, refueling, logistics and training for the UAE military, the United States bears some responsibility for that country’s actions in Yemen.

More than one-quarter of major U.S. arms offers to the UAE since 2009 – valued at $7.2 billion – were for bombs such as the Paveway and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and tactical missiles such as the Hellfire that have been used in the war against ISIS and in the Saudi/Emirati-led intervention in Yemen.

The United States has made offers of over $27 billion worth of weaponry to the UAE under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) since 2009, in 31 separate deals. The offers have included 97 Apache attack helicopters, over 30,000 bombs, 4,569 Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles, 16 Chinook transport helicopters, and a Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.

The United States has also been a major supplier of military training to the UAE military, training over 5,000 students from 2009 to 2016.  U.S. training has been provided to personnel from the UAE Navy, Army, Air Force and Special Forces. Before he was appointed secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis served as an unpaid advisor to the UAE military, starting this arrangement while the Saudi/UAE intervention in Yemen was already under way. In addition, a private contractor, Knowledge International, has provided 125 ex-U.S. Army officers to help train UAE land forces.

UAE troops, working with militias it trains, arms, and commands, have been fighting on two fronts in Yemen, against an alliance between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Saleh, and against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  

According to press accounts and reports by independent human rights organizations the UAE and its allies have engaged in extreme acts of torture in a network of secret prisons in southern Yemen.  The Department of Defense is investigating what U.S. troops knew about these activities, and whether they are directly or indirectly complicit in them.

The war in Yemen has already resulted in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 19 million people in need of aid and more than 7 million at risk of immediate famine. A ceasefire and return to inclusive peace talks focused on end state solutions to the civil war are urgently needed.

The United States has taken the lead in new arms sales agreements with the UAE.  According to a December 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. was responsible for over 70% of arms transfer agreements entered into by the UAE from 2008 to 2015.

The UAE is one of the closest U.S. military allies in the Middle East and has participated in a long series of U.S. interventions, including those in Somalia, Iraq (1991), Kosovo, Libya, and Syria. U.S. forces have used the UAE’s Al Dhafra air base to launch U.S. missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

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