Mysterious air base under construction on volcanic island off Yemen
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A mysterious air base is being built on a volcanic island off Yemen that sits in one of the world’s crucial maritime choke points for energy shipments and commercial cargo.
Although no country has claimed the Mayun Island air base in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, shipping traffic associated with an earlier attempt to build a massive runway on the island that is 5.6 miles long kilometers (3.5 miles) years ago is connected to the United Arab Emirates. Emirates.
Officials from Yemen’s internationally recognized government now claim that the Emiratis are also behind the latest effort, even though the UAE announced in 2019 that it was withdrawing its troops from a Saudi-led military campaign fighting Houthi rebels in the country. Yemen.
âIt seems like a longer-term strategic goal to establish a relatively permanent presence,â said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor at open-source intelligence firm Janes who has followed the construction of Mayun for years. It’s “maybe not just the war in Yemen and you have to see the shipping situation as pretty big there.”
Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. US Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, called the base a “reminder that the UAE is not really outside Yemen.”
The runway on Mayun Island allows anyone in control of it to project power into the strait and easily launch airstrikes on mainland Yemen, rocked by a bloody war that has lasted for years. It also provides a base for all operations in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and nearby East Africa.
Planet Labs Inc. satellite images obtained by the Associated Press showed dump trucks and graders constructing a 1.85 kilometer (6,070 foot) track on the island on April 11. On May 18, this work appeared to be completed, with three hangars built on a tarmac. just south of the trail.
A runway of this length can accommodate attack, surveillance and transport aircraft. An earlier effort started in late 2016 and later abandoned forced workers to try and build an even larger runway over 3 kilometers (9,800 feet) long, which would allow for the heaviest bombers.
Internationally renowned Yemeni government military officials, whom the Saudi-led coalition has supported since 2015, say the UAE is building the trail. Officials, speaking to the PA on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters, said Emirati ships transported weapons, equipment and military troops to Mayun Island. these last weeks.
Military officials said recent tensions between the UAE and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi stemmed in part from an Emirati demand for his government to sign a 20-year lease for Mayun. Emirati officials did not acknowledge any disagreement.
The initial failed construction project came after Emirati and Allied forces recaptured the island from Iranian-backed Houthi militants in 2015. At the end of 2016, satellite images showed construction work underway there. -low.
Tugs associated with Dubai-based Echo Cargo & Shipping LLC and landing craft and carriers from Abu Dhabi-based Bin Nawi Marine Services LLC helped bring equipment to the island in this first attempt, according to tracking signals recorded by data company Refinitiv. Satellite photos from the time show they unloaded equipment and vehicles at a temporary seaside port.
Echo Cargo & Shipping declined to comment, while Bin Nawi Marine Services did not respond to a request for comment. Recent shipping data does not show any vessels recorded around Mayun, suggesting that whoever provided the sea transport for the last build has disabled their vessels’ automatic identification system tracking devices to avoid being identified.
Construction initially came to a halt in 2017, likely when engineers realized they couldn’t dig into part of the volcanic island’s rugged features to incorporate the site of the island’s old trail. The building restarted in earnest at the new track site around February 22, satellite photos show, weeks after President Joe Biden announced he would end US support for the US-led offensive. Saudi Arabia against the Houthis.
The Emiratis’ apparent decision to resume construction of the airbase comes after the UAE dismantled parts of a military base it ran in the East African nation of Eritrea as a starting ground for its campaign in Yemen.
While the Horn of Africa “has become a dangerous place” for the Emiratis due to competitors and local war risks, Mayun has a small population and offers a valuable site to monitor the Red Sea, said Eleonora Ardemagni, analyst at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies. The region has seen an increase in attacks and incidents.
âThe Emiratis have moved from a foreign policy of power projection to a foreign policy of power protection,â Ardemagni said. This increases “their ability to monitor what is happening and prevent possible threats from non-state actors close to Iran.”
The Iranian Paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Quds Expeditionary Force reportedly carried out a similar operation on a cargo ship long stationed near Yemen before it was apparently the target of an Israeli attack.
Mayun, also known as the Island of Perim, is located approximately 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) off the southwestern edge of Yemen. World powers have recognized the island’s strategic location for hundreds of years, notably with the opening of the Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
The British maintained the island until their departure from Yemen in 1967. The Soviet Union, allied with the Marxist government of South Yemen, modernized the naval facilities at Mayun but used them “only rarely,” according to one. 1981 CIA analysis. This is probably due to the need to bring water and supplies to the island. This will affect the new air base and Mayun does not have a modern port, Janes analyst Binnie said.
However, the base may still be of interest to US forces. US troops operated from al-Anad air base in Yemen leading a campaign of drone strikes targeting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula until the Houthi advance forced them to withdraw in 2015 The Defense Department later acknowledged that US troops on the ground supported the coalition led around Mukalla in 2016. Special forces and drone raids also targeted the country.
U.S. Army Central Command did not respond to a request for comment. The CIA declined to comment.