Arab leaders have agreed to form a joint military force at a Sharm el-Sheikh summit, hosting Egyptian President Abdel Sisi has announced. The meeting was dominated by the situation in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia leads a bombing campaign against rebels.
“The Arab leaders have decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force,” Sisi said Sunday as the summit wrapped up. The summit final communique called for “coordination, efforts and steps to establish an unified Arab force” to intervene in countries such as Yemen.
The Egyptian leader said a high-level panel will work out the structure and mechanism of the future force. The work is expected to take four months.
Earlier reports said the joint Arab military may be formed from roughly 40,000 elite troops and backed by warplanes, warships and light armor. There are however doubts that all 22 members of the Arab League would significantly contribute to it; the formations of the force could take months.
In a communique signed in the Egyptian resort city, the Arab countries also called on the West to form a new more comprehensive response to militancy, which is a thinly veiled reference to the desire by some Arab nations to see a new Western military intervention in Libya.
The country that was devastated after civil war and a NATO bombing campaign, which helped to oust strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, became a hotbed for Islamist radicals, including the terrorist organization Islamic State.
The Egyptian Arab League summit was dominated by discussions of the Yemen turmoil, where Shiite Houthi rebels ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s neighbor has gathered a 10-nation Arab coalition against Houthi fighters and launched military strikes on Thursday.
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Arab leaders said the operation in Yemen is to continue until the Houthis withdraw and hand over their weapons.
Yemen remains divided after Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned as the country’s president in 2012 in response to mass protest against his two decades of rule. He kept a strong foothold in Yemen’s politics however, keeping allies in several key positions of the government and the military.
Houthi rebels had been a major anti-government force in Yemen for decades, but have capitalized on the weakening of the central government, which failed to address pressing issues like tribal divisions, the economic slowdown, the pressure from the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda and others.