Skip to main content

Mysterious airstrip built on strategic Yemeni island has ‘I Love UAE’ sign

Abu Dhabi has yet to confirm the building of the 3km runway, revealed by satellite imagery, which can accommodate various types of fighter and transport aircraft
Emirati security forces form a guard of honour for members of the armed forces who fought in Yemen at Zayed Military City, Abu Dhabi, in February 2020 (AFP)
Emirati security forces form a guard of honour for members of the armed forces who fought in Yemen at Zayed Military City, Abu Dhabi, in February 2020 (AFP)

Satellite pictures released on Thursday show what appears to be a new airstrip being built on the strategic Yemeni island of Abd al-Kuri.

The images obtained by the Associated Press via Planet Labs from the past three days show a number of vehicles levelling the surface of the purported runway, which the news agency said measures around three kilometres (1.86 miles).

“A runway of that length can accommodate attack, surveillance and transport aircraft, even some of the heaviest bombers,” the AP analysis said. 

One satellite image shows sand carvings with the sign "I love the UAE", although Abu Dhabi has yet to claim ownership of the construction works.   

Abd al-Kuri is one of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago, a Unesco-listed area in the northwest Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Aden. It is the nearest to the Horn of Africa and is located at the entrance of the strategic maritime route of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Although officially Yemeni territory, the islands have been largely controlled by the UAE and its allied southern Yemeni forces in the aftermath of the 2015 Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen.

The report comes as Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who control the capital Sanaa, continue to attack ships in the Red Sea which they accused of being headed to Israel, in what they say is an act of solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli bombardment since 7 October.

The Houthi attacks, launched since November, have severely disrupted maritime movement in the Red Sea, where some 12 percent of global trade passes, raising insurance costs significantly. The threat of Houthi attacks has forced ships to take the much longer and expensive route around Africa, dealing a blow to global supply chains. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have since January launched retaliatory strikes on the Houthis in Yemen but have so far failed to stop the attacks.

Sky News Arabia manager suggests Arabs must choose between Gaza and Abu Dhabi
Read More »

The purpose and details of the new construction on the Yemeni island remain unclear, and no country has confirmed it was building an airstrip in the area.

Abu Dhabi has yet to confirm the report. In a statement, it told the AP on Thursday that “any presence of the UAE on Socotra island is based on humanitarian grounds that is carried out in cooperation with the Yemeni government and local authorities”.

“The UAE remains steadfast in its commitment to all international endeavours aimed at facilitating the resumption of the Yemeni political process, thereby advancing the security, stability, and prosperity sought by the Yemeni populace,” it added.

AP reported that construction in the area began in January 2022, with images from Planet Labs showing what appeared to be a diagonal, shorter runway being carved out of the ground. There were other signs of construction of a longer north-south runway in July 2022, but work later halted, AP added.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.