Black Day for coalition: UAE, Bahrain lose 50 soldiers

Updated 06 September 2015

Black Day for coalition: UAE, Bahrain lose 50 soldiers

SANAA: The United Arab Emirates said 45 of its troops were killed in Yemen and Bahrain said it lost five soldiers Friday, the deadliest day for a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemeni Shiite rebels.
The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the troops were killed when a rebel missile struck an ammunition depot. On his official Twitter feed, he said the “cowardly attack will not deter us.”
Pro-government Yemeni security officials said the missile strike took place in the province of Marib, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa. Officials from the media office of the Shiite rebel movement known as the Houthis confirmed they fired a Soviet-era Tochka missile in the area. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
The deaths pointed to the increasingly prominent role of the Emirates on the ground in Yemen’s war — both in troops and hardware — though the government has never made clear the full extent of their role or the numbers of troops involved.
The UAE’s news agency, WAM, initially said 22 members of the military were killed Friday but later reported that 23 more had died of their wounds. It gave no details on their role in the conflict.
In a series of messages on his official Twitter feed, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, praised the troops for their sacrifice and said the UAE would continue to support the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
“The sons of the UAE continue to show resilience and bravery in support of our Yemeni brothers against injustice and aggression,” he said.
The US-allied Emirates, a federation of seven small Gulf states including Dubai and the oil-rich capital of Abu Dhabi, is one of the most prominent members of the Saudi-led coalition, which aims to roll back gains by the Shiite rebels and their allies in the deeply impoverished Arabian Peninsula country. The Saudi-led and US-backed coalition, made up mainly of Gulf nations, has been launching airstrikes against the rebels since March. But the UAE is the only country that has acknowledged having troops on the ground in Yemen in the conflict.
Yemeni security officials have said that Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian and Jordanian military advisers are training hundreds of fighters at a military base in Aden.
The Houthi rebels took over Sanaa a year ago and soon after swept over other parts of the country, driving President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are backed by army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and fighting has raged in multiple parts of the country between those forces and those loyal to Hadi as well as southern separatists and local militias opposed to the Houthis.
Bahrain’s state news agency also reported Friday that five of its soldiers were killed while “defending the southern border of Saudi Arabia.” It didn’t give specifics. Yemen is the only country on Saudi Arabia’s southern border where there is fighting, and Houthis have frequently shelled across the frontier.
The Emirati deaths came amid heavy clashes and intensified coalition airstrikes in Marib province, as the opposing sides gear up for a critical battle over the coming days. Pro-government forces want to clear Marib province of Houthi fighters, then proceed on to neighboring Jawf province to the north then to Saada, the Houthis’ stronghold in the north, the security officials said.
The toll was the Emirates’ highest number of combat casualties since the federation was founded in 1971. About six of its troops were killed fighting as part of the US-led coalition that drove the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. At least five other members of the Emirati military have been killed in Yemen this year, and another died during training exercises related to the operation in Saudi Arabia.
On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned the Emirati foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, after the deaths were announced to express his condolences, WAM said.
The Yemen deployment is part of an increasingly assertive military policy by the UAE in the region. Its warplanes are believed to have carried out strikes against Islamic militants in Libya in coordination with Egypt. The Emirates last month freed a British hostage being held in Yemen in what authorities said was a military intelligence operation. The captive, Robert Douglas Semple, had been kidnapped 18 months earlier by Al-Qaeda in Yemen and was flown out aboard a UAE military aircraft.
Last year, the Gulf nation introduced a law requiring military service for adult males. It created a new national holiday last month, Martyrs Day, to commemorate those killed in the line of duty.
Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Reem Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain contributed to this report.

The Yemeni government said an “accidental explosion” at an arms depot at a military base in the eastern province of Marib killed the 22 Emiratis, but the rebels said their fighters launched a rocket attack that caused the blast.
Coalition ally Bahrain said five of its soldiers were killed in southern Saudi Arabia where they had been posted to help defend the border with war-wracked Yemen, but it gave no details.
The UAE armed forces, in a statement carried by state news agency WAM, did not disclose the circumstances of what was its highest casualty toll of the six-month-old air war.
The Emirati army had previously announced at least eight deaths in Yemen among its ranks.
A total of 33 Yemeni soldiers and coalition forces were killed and dozens of people were wounded in the blast at the base in Safer, 250 km from Sanaa, the pro-Hadi army command said.
A thick plume of black smoke was seen billowing from the base several hours later.
According to military sources, the coalition sent reinforcements to the Safer base this week, including tanks, armored vehicles, troop carriers, rocket launchers and Apache helicopters.
The extra military hardware as well as troop reinforcements aim to boost “the counter-offensive launched by loyalist forces and the coalition to advance on Sanaa,” one military official in Yemen said.
The Yemeni government said the explosion near an Emirati encampment in Safer was caused by “badly stored munitions.”
An initial investigation, however, found that the blast was triggered by a surface-to-surface missile fired by the rebels, one Yemeni military source said.
Coalition jets later on Friday carried out airstrikes on the rebel-held Defense Ministry complex in Sanaa and also targeted arms depots in the north of the capital.

‘We have long reached for the stars’: Arab history in space exploration

Updated 46 min 38 sec ago

‘We have long reached for the stars’: Arab history in space exploration

  • On June 17, 1985, Saudi Prince Sultan entered the history books when he journeyed into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida
  • As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are spearheading a new era of Arab space exploration

Arab astronauts may not have set foot on the moon, but an Arab geographer left his mark on the Earth’s natural satellite as long ago as 1935.

A lunar impact crater 65 km in diameter was named AbulFeda by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in honor of Isma’il Ibn Abu Al-Fida, a prince of the Ayyubid dynasty who lived between 1273 and 1331 in Syria.

The IAU was founded in 1919 to promote the science of astronomy and pay homage to major contributors in the field. AbulFeda is just one of 11 lunar craters named after luminaries from the golden age of Islamic civilization, which lasted from the mid-7th century to the 13th century.

In all, 24 lunar craters have been named after individuals from the region, including Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887), an Andalusian inventor, physician, musician, engineer, humanitarian and poet — and the first man to fly. According to a 9th century poem, the so-called Leonardo da Vinci of the Muslim world “flew faster than the phoenix in his flight.”

Ibn Firnas was 65 when he became the world’s first hang-glider, jumping off the side of a mountain with feathers attached to his body and “touching the sky for a few minutes,” according to historical accounts.

Centuries later, in February, 1976, a meeting between the-then president of the UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and three US astronauts changed the course of a man’s life and fired the imagination of a young nation. A year earlier, the astronauts had taken part in the historic docking of an Apollo command/service module and a Soviet Soyuz 19 capsule as part of the first joint US–Soviet space flight.

A black-and-white photograph of the meeting, which can be seen at the operational air force squadron in Abu Dhabi, made a great impression on a young Emirati pilot, Hazza Al-Mansouri.

“I would look at the photo and imagine retaking it with three Emirati astronauts sitting with the founding father,” he said later.

Now 31-year-old Al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, will also make history when he joins a mission to the International Space Station in September.

“It is a great honor to be represent the UAE in space, and to make my dream and the dream of a nation come true,” he told Arab News.

The astronaut plans to take personal items with him into space, including a seed of his country’s national tree, Al-Ghaf, and his traditional Emirati outfit.

The photograph of Sheikh Zayed and the US astronauts was not the only image that fired Al-Mansouri’s imagination. Inside his fourth-grade school book was a color photo of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the first Arab and royal to travel into space.

On June 17, 1985, Prince Sultan, a Saudi air force fighter pilot, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on board the space shuttle Discovery. During the seven-day mission, he helped to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat).

Prince Sultan became a hero and an icon across the region. “We have long reached the stars and beyond,” he said.

Two years later, on July 22, 1987, Muhammed Faris, a Syrian military aviator, became the first Syrian and the second Arab in space, carrying a vial soil from Damascus on his journey from Earth.

Faris, who now lives in Turkey as a refugee, struck a responsive chord with many when he later told an interviewer: “When you go up there, you realize there are no borders, no countries, no nationalities. Just Earth. Mother Earth. We should protect this Earth. Who hurts their mother?”

The 1980s was a decade of expansion, exploration and transformation in the Middle East. Now, 30 years later, that energy has returned.

As the third Arab country (after Saudi Arabia and Syria) to send a man into space, the UAE has a special relationship with space and the moon.
In a corner of the Al-Ain national museum is “a piece of the moon” gifted to Sheikh Zayed by the three US astronauts.

“This fragment is a portion of a rock from the Valley of Taurus-Littrow. It is given as a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and carries with it the hope of the American people for a world at peace,” says the plaque describing the object.

Next to it, is a small, well-traveled UAE flag.

“This flag of your nation was carried to the moon aboard spacecraft America during the Apollo XVII mission, Dec. 7 to 19, 1972. Presented to the people of the UAE from the people of the United States of America, Richard Nixon 1973.”

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the UAE is looking forward to the launch of Al-Amal, or Hope, in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s foundation. The spacecraft will orbit Mars, which has an area of contrasting brightness and darkness that was named Arabia Terra in 1979 for its resemblance to the Arabian Peninsula.

“The moon landing was a pivotal moment in human history,” Salem Humaid Al-Marri, assistant director general for science and technology at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, told Arab News.

“It was when something we imagined became a reality, and humanity left this planet. It was the result of science, engineering, mathematics and imagination coming together.”

“Space makes people dream the impossible,” said Al-Marri.

The words uttered by Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to step on to the lunar surface, on July 20, 1969 — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — have become part of history.

“It was such a powerful statement that influenced so many who watched the original landing as well as those from the current generation who watched it on the Internet or TV,” said Al-Marri. “There isn’t anyone who hasn’t see the moon landing somewhere.”

The space era began as a “race” between the superpowers that helped to break new ground.

“The race pushed space industry development to new levels. While it was driven by military involvement, the benefits from the technological advances were for all people,” said Al-Marri. “We have better satellites, as well as a better understanding of our planet and the world around it, as a result.”

However, after the 1969 moon landing, strained budgets and depleted resources forced the space industry to abandon competition and embrace cooperation.

“Space today is all about cooperating to reach new heights. If you want to fly into space now, you have to do so on a Russian spacecraft as the Americans retired their shuttles in 2011,” Al-Marri said.

Al-Mansouri will head into space together with a US and a Russian astronaut, symbolizing a new era of Arab participation in space exploration.

“The UAE is working with the Saudi space program, as well as with others such as Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait and Bahrain, to boost the Arab presence in the space industry,” said Al-Marri.

“Space is bringing Arab nations together.”

In the broad sweep of history, these space programs are building on the contributions of the Islamic civilization that shaped the modern world — and honoring the memory of scientists and explorers such as Abu Al-Fida and Ibn Firnas.