Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), visited the UAE this week and vowed more support for Abu Dhabi’s war against the Houthis as the US escalates its involvement in the war in Yemen.
In the wake of recent Houthi attacks on the UAE, the US is deploying the USS Cole to the country, and McKenzie said a squadron of US F-22s would arrive next week. “We’re going to bring in a squadron of F-22 fighter jets, the best air superiority fighters in the world,” he said, according to UAE state media.
McKenzie said the F-22s will work with the UAE to “help defend the nation.” In recent weeks, the US helped Abu Dhabi intercept Houthi missiles. He said the USS Cole will “patrol the waters of the UAE, working closely with UAE air defenders to protect their nation.”
The cooperation is framed as “defensive” in nature, but it’s important to note that the Houthis wouldn’t be attacking the UAE if the country hadn’t been waging war on Yemen since 2015. The UAE’s support for militant groups on the ground in Yemen has brought the Saudi-backed government recent success on the battlefield against the Houthis.
McKenzie said the US is also working to give the UAE the ability to hit Houthi drones inside Yemen before they’re launched. “We are working with our partners here in the region and with the industry back in the United States to develop solutions that would work against drones. We would like to work against drones what we call ‘Left of Launch’, [which means] before they can be launched,” he said.
The Biden administration recently approved a $65 million arms sale to the UAE to upgrade Abu Dhabi’s Hawk, THAAD, and Patriot missile defense systems.
Israel is also looking to bolster the UAE’s missile defenses and is reportedly considering selling Abu Dhabi the Iron Dome. On Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, who is nominated to be McKenzie’s replacement, said Israel’s cooperation with the UAE and other Gulf nations in missile defense is promising.
“That’s probably the area with some of the greatest opportunity: working toward an integrated air and missile defense. I think the addition of Israel … will help with that,” Kurilla said.