Emirati Brig. Gen. Musallam al-Rashedi speaks to journalists during a news conference regarding Yemen in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. The United Arab Emirates on Monday described itself as actively fighting al-Qaida's branch in Yemen after an Associated Press report outlined how Emirati forces cut secret deals with the militants to get them to abandon territory. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

UAE responds to AP report on deals with al-Qaida in Yemen

August 13, 2018 - 1:48 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Monday said it was actively fighting al-Qaida's branch in Yemen after an Associated Press report outlined how Emirati forces cut secret deals with the militants to get them to abandon territory.

An Emirati general denied the report while speaking to journalists in Dubai, saying it was based on "nothing." The AP spoke to two dozen witnesses, tribal leaders, mediators, militants and security officials who all described the practice.

Meanwhile, a top Emirati diplomat acknowledged that war is not a "clean operation" when asked about a Saudi-led airstrike last week in Yemen that killed dozens, including schoolchildren.

"This war has been and remains an ugly war," said Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs. "In this war, we have seen civilians shot at, bombed, killed and unfortunately, as I say, this is really part of any confrontation we have to do."

The UAE has been part of the Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, since 2015. Emirati forces largely have handled operations in southern Yemen, including working with local militiamen and soldiers still loyal to the country's exiled government.

The AP report published last week outlined how coalition-backed militias recruited al-Qaida militants, or those who were recently members, because they're considered exceptional fighters.

One Yemeni commander who was put on the U.S. terrorism list for al-Qaida ties last year continues to receive money from the UAE to run his militia, his own aide told the AP. Another commander, recently granted $12 million for his fighting force by Yemen's president, has a known al-Qaida figure as his closest aide.

In one case, a tribal mediator who brokered a deal between the Emiratis and al-Qaida even gave the extremists a farewell dinner.

On Monday, Emirati Brig. Gen. Musallam al-Rashedi talked to journalists about his country's work to battle al-Qaida in Yemen, known by the acronym AQAP. Responding to an AP question, the general denied the news agency's report without offering any specifics.

"They are not willing to negotiate, most of these hard-core guys. They are willing to go and fight," al-Rashedi said. "We have guys who have been injured, killed by AQAP and there's no point in negotiating with these guys."

He added that since 2015, some 1,000 "core" al-Qaida fighters had been killed, including 13 most-wanted leaders, while 1,500 have been captured. Emirati officials said only "200" al-Qaida fighters remain on the battlefield, without elaborating.

Al-Qaida in Yemen long has been considered the most dangerous offshoot of the terror organization founded by Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Its adherents have been involved in the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing on a U.S.-bound passenger jet and a 2010 attempt to smuggle explosives into cargo flights. It claimed the 2015 attack in Paris on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

The U.S. has waged a long-running campaign of drone strikes in Yemen targeting suspected al-Qaida members. Al-Rashedi described receiving surveillance footage from the Americans, as well as directly working with U.S. special forces.

Gargash said Emirati troops were still fighting to retake the crucial Yemeni port city of Hodeidah from the Houthis, while acknowledging that civilians have been killed by all sides, including the Saudi-led coalition.

A Saudi-led airstrike Thursday in Yemen's Saada province hit a bus and killed dozens of people, including school children wearing backpacks.

The United Nations says an exact casualty figure remains unknown. However, the Houthi-controlled Al-Masirah satellite news channel has reported at least 51 people, including 40 children, were killed and 79 others, including 56 children, were wounded. It cited Yemen's Health Ministry in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, for the figures.

"War is not something that can actually be a clean operation," Gargash said. "I'm not going to come here and say war led by us can be a clean operation."

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .

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