UAE dismantles Eritrea base as it pulls back after Yemen war

Dubai, Feb 18 (AP):
The United Arab Emirates is dismantling parts of a military base it runs in the East African nation of Eritrea after it pulled back from the grinding war in nearby Yemen, satellite photos analysed by The Associated Press show.
The UAE built a port and expanded an airstrip in Assab beginning in September 2015, using the facility as a base to ferry heavy weaponry and Sudanese troops into Yemen as it fought alongside a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there.
But the country once praised as Little Sparta by former US defence Secretary Jim Mattis appears to have found the limits of its military expansion in Yemen’s stalemate conflict, experts say. After it withdrew troops from the conflict, the satellite photos show it began shipping off equipment and tearing down even newly built structures.
“The Emiratis are paring back their strategic ambitions and are pulling out of places where they had presences, said Ryan Bohl, an analyst at the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor.
Having that hard-power deployment exposed them to more risk than the Emiratis are now willing to tolerate.
Emirati officials did not respond to questions from the AP. Eritrea, which gave a 30-year lease to the Emiratis for the base, similarly did not respond to questions sent to its embassy in Washington.
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, poured millions of dollars into improving the facility at Assab, only some 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Yemen. It dredged a port and improved the dusty airstrip’s roughly 3,500-meter (11,500-foot) runway to allow for heavy support aircraft.
The Emiratis also built barracks, aircraft canopies and fencing across the 9-square-kilometer (3.5-square-mile) facility initially built in the 1930s by colonial power Italy.
Over time, the UAE stationed Leclerc battle tanks, G6 self-propelled howitzers and BMP-3 amphibious fighting vehicles at the airport, according to United Nations experts. Those types of heavy weapons have been seen on Yemeni battlefields. Attack helicopters, drones and other aircraft have been seen on its runways.

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