The Yemeni Army has launched at least three recent attacks targeting the UAE, which is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has waged an aerial campaign against Yemen since 2015.
McKenzie, who oversees US forces in the Middle East as head of Central Command, said he moved up his planned visit in response to the Houthi attacks, hoping to underscore the US commitment to the Persian Gulf state’s defense.
“I think it’s a very worrisome time for UAE. They’re looking for support. We’re here to help them to provide that support,” McKenzie told reporters shortly before landing in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced a US deployment of advanced F-22 fighter jets and a guided missile destroyer, the USS Cole, to partner with the UAE navy ahead of a port call in Abu Dhabi.
McKenzie added the F-22s would provide the UAE with “one of the best look-down radars in the world,” capable of identifying targets including land attack cruise missiles and drones.
The USS Cole will operate in waters around the UAE, he stated, keeping a lookout for shipments of illegal contraband.
The US military has so far described its support to the Emirates as bilateral, defensive assistance, as opposed to any assistance to the Saudi-led coalition itself.
Asked about the latest Houthi attacks, McKenzie noted they could have been prompted by a range of scenarios, including as a response to battlefield setbacks.
“Hard to know all the Houthi reasons behind this,” he said, adding, “I think the Houthis aren’t used to losing ground in Yemen.”
Washington accuses Tehran of supplying high-end weaponry to the Houthis.
“Medium range ballistic missiles that were fired from Yemen and entered UAE were not invented, built, designed in Yemen,” McKenzie claimed, stating, “All that happened somewhere else. So I think we certainly see the Iranian connection to this.”
Iran has repeatedly dismissed allegations about supplying weapons to Yemeni forces.
“Medicine and medical goods are sent to Yemenis with difficulty; then how could military equipment go through and sent to them?” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson had asked.
The spokesman noted that the Yemeni nation has made astonishing progress in the military field and manufacturing weapons and military equipment after facing the Saudi-led aggression.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a war against the Arab world’s most impoverished nation in March 2015. The war has been seeking to restore power in Yemen to Riyadh’s favorite officials.
The death toll of the war, now in its seventh year, will reach an estimated 377,000 by the end of 2021, according to a recent report from the UN’s Development Programme.
The fighting has seen some 80 percent of the population, or 24 million people, relying on aid and assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need.