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Yemen’s UAE-backed leader confirms military presence at strategic island

The nephew of Yemen’s late president and UAE-backed forces’ leader, Tareq Saleh, confirmed military forces loyal to him had been deployed on the strategic island in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

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Tareq Saleh, the UAE-backed National Resistance Forces’ leader and nephew of Yemen’s late President Ali Abdullah Saleh, made significant remarks on his interview for the Arabic service of Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency.

Regarding the latest reports about the strategic Mayun island where mysterious airbase construction activities were reported, Saleh stated that his troops had been deployed on the island.

In his statement, Saleh noted that “We have forces affiliated with the Yemeni Coast Guard… present on the island of Mayun, and there is also a small force of the Arab coalition forces present on the island represented by the Saudi forces.”

In late May, the Associated Press (AP) reported construction activities carried on a volcanic island off Yemen, which is located in one of the world’s significant maritime chokepoints for both energy shipments and commercial cargo. According to the report, construction activities for a runway across the 5.6-kilometer-long island had been observed.

Satellite images reached by the Associated Press showed that the construction of a 1.85-kilometer-long runway was almost completed on May 18. In addition to that, three hangars were also built on the island. Saleh also added that “The runway was built to provide future logistical support for the joint forces on the western coast, or for any other parties.”

Officials affiliated with Yemen’s internationally recognized government claimed that the UAE is behind these activities on the strategic island. However, the Emirati authorities have not commented on the issue yet.

On the other hand, following the days-long silence, the Saudi-led coalition issued a statement indicating that the “equipment” on the island is under full control of the coalition forces.

Tareq’s statements came amid at least two Emirati-owned ships having navigated to Mayun island several times during early June. Tracking the vessels’ routes, AP detected that both ships have also shuttled to Mokha and Mukalla, which are known for hosting the Emirati military campaign in Yemen, before returning to the UAE.

Once supporting the Iranian-backed Houthi group in Yemen, Tareq Saleh changed his side in late 2017 when the Houthis assassinated his uncle, Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh. It is believed that Saleh, residing in the Yemeni city of Mokha, has around 20,000 troops under his command.

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