Did Malaysia Just Join the Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen?

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Did Malaysia Just Join the Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen?

A misleading report generates hype over the country’s role in Yemen.

On May 10, the Saudi Press Agency reported that Malaysia had become the 12th country to join the Saudi-led coalition against Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

According to the report, Malaysian forces arrived on Sunday at Saudi air bases to join Riyadh’s military coalition. No further details, however, were provided about what kinds of “forces” had arrived and what exactly their role might be.

Malaysia’s defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein subsequently clarified on Twitter that Malaysia was not sending troops to Yemen after all, but only sending personnel and equipment to Riyadh to assist in humanitarian and evacuation operations. There are still Malaysian students in Yemen.

In addition, on May 11, Zulkifeli Bin Mohd Zain, Malaysia’s chief of defense forces, issued a press statement to further shed light on the issue. According to that statement, seen by The Diplomat, Zulkifeli stated that “the sole mission of our troops in Saudi Arabia is to facilitate the safe and smooth evacuation of the remaining Malaysian citizens in Yemen.”

According to that statement, two Royal Malaysian Air Force C130 transport aircraft will be positioned at the Forward Operating Base at Prince Sultan Air Base in Riyadh before departing to the evacuation location. Subsequently, Malaysian citizens will be evacuated and returned for safe passage to Malaysia.

If so, that statement suggests little has changed regarding Malaysia’s role in Yemen. The country has been working to evacuate people trapped in Yemen — both its own citizens as well as those of neighboring states — with the help of Arab states and aid agencies for weeks now.

As for the situation in Yemen itself, Malaysia expressed hope that the five-day humanitarian ceasefire proposed by Saudi Arabia, which begins May 12, will hold.

As Zulkifeli put it in his statement, “The focus of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners has now shifted from Operation Decisive Storm to Operation Renewal of Hope. It is our hope that the proposed ceasefire, which will begin on Tuesday, remains.”