Egypt’s Sissi: Arab Leaders Agree to Joint Military Force – Voice of America

Arab leaders have agreed to form a joint military force in the face of the “challenges” facing the region, Egypt’s president announced on the final day of a two-day Arab summit.


President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made the comment Sunday during the Arab League’s closing session at the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. “The Arab leaders had decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force.”


Sissi said a high-level panel will work under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff to work out the structure and mechanism of the force. Egyptian officials said the proposed force would be made up of roughly 40,000 elite troops and backed by jets, warships and light armor.


The decision was mostly aimed at fighting jihadists who have overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria and won a foothold in Libya, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said ahead of the summit.


On Sunday, Arabi told the meeting that the region was threatened by a “destructive” force that threatened “ethnic and religious diversity,” in an apparent reference to the Islamic State group jihadists, the French news agency AFP reported.


Already, a Saudi-led coalition is staging airstrikes against positions of Shi’ite rebels in Yemen and their allies. However, it is unlikely that all 22-member nations of the Arab League will join the proposed force.


In a communique released Sunday, Arab leaders said the airstrikes in Yemen would continue until Iranian-backed Shi’ite rebels there “withdraw” and surrender their weapons.


The summit communique also urged the West to adopt a comprehensive approach to militancy, a thinly veiled reference to the desire by Egypt and others to see a military intervention in Libya, home to an affiliate of the Islamic State group as well as other extremists.


Airstrikes in Yemen


Earlier, the Saudi kingdom said a Saudi-led airstrike campaign targeting Shi’ite Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen had pushed the rebels out of contested air bases and destroyed any jet fighters remaining in the Arab world’s poorest country.


Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri said the airstrike campaign, now entering its fourth day Sunday, continued to target Scud missiles in Yemen, leaving most of their launching pads “devastated,” according to remarks carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.


However, Asiri warned Saturday that the Houthis could control more of the missiles. His account could not be immediately corroborated.


The Houthis began their offensive in September, seizing the capital, Sana’a, and later holding embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi under house arrest. The rebels later took over government in Yemen and ultimately forced Hadi to flee the country in recent days.


A Saudi-led coalition of some 10 countries began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen’s former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh.


Meanwhile Sunday, Pakistan planned to dispatch a plane to the Yemeni city of Hodeida, hoping to evacuate some 500 citizens gathered there, said Shujaat Azim, an adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister. Pakistan said it has about 3,000 citizens living in Yemen.


Material for this report came from AP and AFP.

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