The UAE pulls back


The Horn of Africa can be seen as a conflict incubator. At this time there are several issues plaguing the region, The failure to hold elections in Somalia on schedule and the fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are the major crises in the region at this time.

There is another situation that has proven to be interesting as well. It involves a state located in the Horn and its interactions with one of the Persian Gulf countries. Or should it be said that some ties are being cut in such a way to make regional tensions more of a concern for several interests as well.

In Mid-February 2021 reports emerged that the United Arab Emirates was closing parts in Assab, Eritrea. In fact some of the imagery shows the dismantling of aircraft shelters and the removal of equipment used on the naval section of the base in Assab. The official statements that were released from the Emiratis stated that the base was being closed as the UAE scaled back its operations in the Yemeni conflict.

This is not the only narrative that is being presented however. The base which came online in 2015 was used to ferry Sudanese Troops to the battlefields in Yemen as well as housing some prisoners captured during operations in Yemen. The base also had a top tier Medical facility used to treat the wounded as well. Officially the UAE withdrew its ground troops from Yemen in 2019 but continued to provide Air Support for the effort on the ground which included the use of UAVs taking off from Assab. Recent allegations stating that some Emirati UAVs have been supporting Ethiopian Forces in their operations against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) have not been confirmed at this time.

One reason that has been promoted for the UAE move is that the country wants more of its assets closer to the Sheikdom as tensions with Iran continue to ratchet up. A container ship was damaged after striking a mine on Feb 25th in the Gulf of Oman creating some rattled nerves in the region. Protection of the Emirates themselves appears to be more of a priority than adventures supporting allies such as Saudi Arabia or General Haftar and the LNA (Libyan National Army) in the fighting that has raged in Libya for almost a decade.

However there is another question that deserves to be asked. How are the relations between the Emirates and Eritrea? During the early days of the crisis between the Saudi-UAE group and Qatar the Eritreans did refuse to cut ties with Qatar as the country refused to cut ties with their “Brothers in Doha.” Another row did emerge in 2020 as a ship carrying supplies for the Island of Dankalia was refused permission to dock by the authorities in Asmara. The vessel then sailed on to an undisclosed location.

We have reasons to believe that there is not one clear cut reason for this move. It appears that there have been some small moves that when connected present a clear picture of why this move was actually made by the UAE. It shows that in most cases Nations do not have allies by they have interests.

Right now protecting the Home Turk is a vital interest to the UAE.


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Specialist in US Policy (Security, Assymetrical Operations and Business Development) towards Africa and Arab World (Washington DC – USA)

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