KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian troops in Saudi Arabia are not there as part of Riyadh’s military coalition to battle Houthi militias in Yemen, said the Defence Ministry.
Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysian troops had been based at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Riyadh for only one mission - to facilitate the evacuation of Malaysians in Yemen.
“The Armed Forces’ first involvement there began in April 2015, when two Charlie 130 aircraft brought back 70 Malaysians successfully evacuated from Aden, Yemen through Djibouti and Eritrea.
“They were flown back to Malaysia from Jeddah and Abu Dhabi. To date, 673 Malaysians have been flown home safely,” he said in reply to a question by Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Amanah-Parit Buntar) in Parliament on Wednesday.
A military coalition led by Saudi launched air strikes against the Houthi militias and their allies in Yemen on March 26, 2015 after they seized control of large parts of the country.
Opposition MPs had previously demanded Mindef explain the presence of its troops in Saudi after a United Nations report on the situation in Yemen had mentioned Saudi allies Malaysia, France and Britain sending troops to Riyadh.
Two days ago, Kuala Terengganu MP Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah had in a press conference said the report stated that France and Britain had replied the UN, denying any involvement in going on the offensive, but Malaysia had not given any response.
Asked by Dr Mujahid to comment on a recent report in Al-Arabiya, a Saudi news outlet, that Malaysia had sent its military assets to Saudi to help it in the war, Hishammuddin maintained his initial stand.
“Our troops are there to conduct evacuation missions, and they are still there because the situation in Yemen is still very unstable.
“It is not possible for us to do anything else other than this because we operate only within the borders of Saudi, not beyond it.
“Also, our assets in Saudi are not capable of taking or supporting any action on the offensive,” he said.
The minister noted that Armed Forces troops in Saudi had taken part in two joint military exercises while based there - Thunder of the North and North Sphere - on invitation by the Saudi government.
Hishammuddin, however, dispelled allegations that the Malaysian military had done so with specific reasons in mind, saying that Malaysia had done military exercises with 14 nations throughout 2016.
“The other nations include Thailand, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Brunei, Australia, Britain, France and China.
“It is important for us to expose our troops to varying landscapes to learn to share knowledge and intelligence in a world that is constantly facing new threats.
“I am not apologetic about this, since it will ensure our assets are up to date and our troops are properly skilled to face threats that can be understood and overcome through close relations with other nations,” he said.