Two warplanes from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fatally crashed while fighting the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, the New York Times reports, citing Saudi Arabia’s official news agency.
The two UAE air force pilots were killed Monday. A Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, has been combating the Houthis and their allies since March 2015.
Saudi Arabia and some of its allies, including the United States, have accused Iran of providing support to the Houthis, an allegation that the Shiite rebels have denied.
The Saudi Arabia news agency reportedly said a “technical malfunction” was behind the crash of the two warplanes.
However, “The claim was impossible to verify independently,” reports the Times, adding, “Local media reported that the plane, a French Mirage, had crashed in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, and showed pictures of the wreckage.”
“The crash was at least the third crash or downing of a coalition fighter jet in the conflict,” adds the report. “And it was the latest setback for the United Arab Emirates, one of the coalition’s most visible and active participants, which has lost scores of soldiers in Houthi rocket strikes or militant attacks.”
The crash occurred amid growing international concern about the broader consequences of the Saudi-led operations in Yemen, which have received military support from the Obama administration.
During the conflict, which has shown no signs of abating and has fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, more than 6,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, have been killed, notes the Times.
“Sunni Muslim extremist groups, including Al Qaeda’s powerful local affiliate and a branch of the Islamic State, have gained strength while fighting alongside Saudi-backed forces against the Houthis,” adds the report. “The militant groups have capitalized on the war to gain territory in southern Yemen.”
The Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered the most dangerous branch of the Sunni terrorist group, controls more territory than any other jihadist group in the country, The Fiscal Times reported in February.
A resurgent Sunni AQAP is capitalizing on the deadly civil war in Yemen, emerging as the strongest jihadist group in the country while the Saudi-led coalition concentrates on defeating the Houthis and the West focuses on combating ISIS.
The New York Times reports:
For most of the conflict, the coalition appeared to ignore the expanding reach of the Sunni militants while it focused its firepower on territory controlled by the Houthis, a Shiite-led group whom the Saudis regard as a proxy force for Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival. In recent days, though, the coalition for the first time has been forced to bomb territory that it had claimed to control, in Aden, to counter the growing presence of Qaeda militants there.