DUBAI: The United States will send a warship and fighter jets to help defend the United Arab Emirates, officials said on Wednesday, after a series of missile attacks by Yemeni rebels left three dead in the wealthy Gulf state.
The deployment, to “assist the UAE against the current threat”, follows a phone call between Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the US embassy in the UAE said.
The UAE, part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels and a major financial hub, suffered its third missile attack in consecutive weeks on Monday.
As part of the new arrangements, the USS Cole guided missile destroyer will partner with the UAE Navy and make a port call in Abu Dhabi, while the US will also deploy fifth-generation warplanes.
Other actions include “continuing to provide early warning intelligence (and) collaborating on air defence”, the embassy said.
The USS Cole, currently in port in Bahrain, was hit by an Al-Qaeda bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000 that killed 17 sailors.
Austin and the crown prince “discussed the recent Huthi attacks against the UAE that caused civilian casualties and also threatened US and Emirati armed forces stationed at Al Dhafra air base,” the embassy added.
The rebel attacks on the UAE have added a new dimension to Yemen’s seven-year war, which has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly and displaced millions. Three foreign workers were killed in a drone and missile assault targeting Abu Dhabi’s oil facilities and airport on January 17, triggering a salvo of deadly air strikes in retaliation.
On January 24, US forces stationed at Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra air base fired Patriot interceptors and scrambled to bunkers as two ballistic missiles were shot down over the city.
And on Monday, a third missile attack was thwarted during a visit to the UAE by Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
The US, a staunch Saudi and UAE ally, intends the deployment to be “a clear signal that the United States stands with the UAE as a long-standing strategic partner”, the embassy said.
President Joe Biden withdrew US support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen after taking office early last year, reversing his predecessor’s policy of providing logistical assistance.
However, the US State Department announced in November the approval of the sale of $650 million worth of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia to help the country protect itself from Huthi drone attacks.
A $23 billion US arms package to the UAE, including F-35 fighter jets, has yet to be finalised, with the Emiratis threatening to scrap the deal over stringent conditions.
The rebel attacks have increased Gulf tensions at a time when international talks over Iran’s nuclear programme are stumbling, and have helped push oil prices to seven-year highs.
They began after a series of defeats on the ground in Yemen, inflicted by the UAE-trained Giants Brigades militia.
In early January, the rebels seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea, saying it was carrying weapons — a claim denied by the Emirates.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis seized Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.
The UAE, one of the world’s biggest arms buyers, announced a redeployment from Yemen in 2019 but remains an influential player.
The country has called on Biden to redesignate the Huthis as a terrorist organisation after he delisted them in response to aid group concerns over what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The grinding conflict has left millions on the brink of famine, according to the UN.