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SEPTEMBER 2020

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

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Defense site Lostarmour.info released an analysis providing a look at the usage of Leclerc main battle tanks in the Yemen conflict. (SOURCESF provides its translation. Pics are taken from the original text.

Another report on the Yemeni conflict can be found here: “Saudi-led Coalition’s Deliveries Of Armoured Vehicles To Its Allies In Yemen

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Dedicated to the third anniversary of the intervention…

From the beginning of the Saudi coalition intervention, after the appearance of the UAE contingent, many have been waiting for information over the employment of the Leclerc AMX-56 main battle tank (MBT) in the Yemeni war. Lost Armour publishes an article on this issue.

Historical Notes

The French were unsatisfied with the AMX-30 modification of the main battle tank. They decided to replace this modification considering its main disadvantage – weak self-protection. The French came to the creation with the German obstinacy, improving each following series. Finally, the MBT was brought up to the final release’s standard. The MBT was named in honour of French General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque.

The MBT Leclerc was considered the most expensive in the world at the beginning of the 1990s and the UAE sheiks that had been used to live in luxury, focusing on the “super modern topping” and a decent price decided to invest with the French contractor. They received 388 tanks of the export modification Leclerc EAU, some of which received the additional protection AZUR for city fighting and 46 armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) Leclerc DCL.

The Leclerc tanks probably were gathering dust in the French and UAE warehouses as they were not popular among foreign customers, occasionally delighting owners during training exercises, but only once a year during target practices.

The decisive year for the French tank was 2015 when the pro-Iranian (according to the Arabian peninsula monarchies) Zaidi opposition from the Ansar Allah movement (Houthis), supported by the allies and the majority of the army, loyal to the 2011 deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh Afash, threw off another local dictator Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who overstayed at the post. Hadi, an Arab version of Yanukovych, came to power in the 2012 election, scoring 100% of votes (!). Hadi was the only candidate for this post! Arab democracy is senseless and pitiless indeed! In 2014 he had to resign, but who wants to give up power? Thus, Hadi decide to stay for another year, but his legitimacy was broken on September 21, 2014, when Houthis captured Sana’a so he fled to Aden, then to Riyadh.

The Gulf Sunni monarchies did not put up with the fact that their puppet lost its power and the Shi’ites were about to come to power.  Driven by the ideals of so-called “democracy and legitimacy” the Saudi Arabia government decided to put out the fire by forming a coalition and sending its Air Force to Yemen to attack “rebellious parts” (including civilian infrastructures) and organised a regular army support unit of hundreds of different Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP), out-dated armoured personnel carriers (APC) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) for the Hadi supporters, southerners and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and then, they launched a ground operation, in which the greatest determination was shown by the UAE Armed Force.

Chapter 1 – Aden

It is necessary to acknowledge the command of the UAE Armed Forces – the level of secrecy of this Middle Eastern Army is maintained at the highest level. There are no precise dates of the arrival of the contingent to the port city of Aden, but the first military trade Oshkosh L-ATV (Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle appeared among the Southerners in the first half of July and the first UAE soldiers died on July 16 and 21 in Yemen, but the MBT did not appeared before July 25.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

By that time, the heavy fighting in Aden had already stopped, so at best, the MBT could only participate in the mopping-up operations in the suburbs, where no one could seriously resist them. Immediately after the arrival, the coalition identified the main goal of the Golden Arrow operation, which was to capture the strategically important military air base Al Anad in the Lahij governorate, Yemen.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Chapter 2 – Al Anad

In the first days of August, a 4 thousand strong group of the UAE Armed Forces arrived in Aden (the area of the oil terminal) and headed towards the Al Anad military base, which had been under siege for two weeks.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

It was at that time that a column of dozens of MBTs Leclerc (70 to 80 tanks are claimed to have taken part in the war), with additional protection from AZUR and BMP-3 flashed on international TV channels. The Houthi garrison was small  (a couple of dozens), so the Al Anad military base had fallen by August 3. The UAE forces had not suffered any losses.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Chapter 3 – Abyan

The events of the beginning of August can be considered as a collapse of the Houthi defenses in the south of the country. After the fall of Lahij, the UAE army and the Southern Opposition subunits began the gradual liberation of Abyan, including Zinjibar, Loudar, Shoukra and the 15th brigade’s base. The entire governorate had been captured by August 11.

The BMP-3s were the main participants of the victory parade of the UAE’s Armed Forces, one of which had been blown up by a mine while driving on the Aden-Abyan route, the three-member crew of the UAE died. They were the only UAE casualties in Abyan.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

In the second half of August, the Southern Opposition forces tried to take Mukeiras, Bayda governorate, but they were ambushed in the mountains of Loudar and suffered serious losses in hardware. The UAE forced did participate in this battle.

Chapter 4 – Marib

Inspired with the success in the progress in the south of Yemen, the Saudi coalition prepared a blitzkrieg plan to break though Sana’a as soon as possible through the Marib Mountains and return there the fugitive puppet. To do this, by the end of August at the Safir air base, to the east of the city of Marib, aircraft and armoured vehicles of the UAE, the KSA and Bahrain armies arrived, as well as the hero of our story.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

As the operation was about to begin, the first and most serious blow to the interventionists was the strike on the base with a tactical ballistic missile Tochka with high-explosive fragmentation head, launched from the Shabwah Governorate territory. The blast killed 56 Emirati, 10 Saudi and 5 Bahraini soldiers and an unknown number of Hadi supporters. In addition to warehouses, armoured vehicles and barracks, at least one Leclerc tank and BRAM DCL came also under fire, which did suffer serious damage, but the quality and duration of the shooting did not allow discerning the equipment in other locations.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Enraged by the heavy losses, on September 13, 2015 the coalition and the Hadi army launched Operation Revenge of Marib, the primary goal of which was the capture of the Marib dam and surrounding mountains of the Sirvah territory. The main battle force was the Oshkosh L-ATV vehicle, but Emirati “believed in themselves” and launched in the battle at least a dozen of Leclerc MBTs, armed with the additional protection. What happened next can be described by the definition of “Shooting with obstacles” (in this case, the target was the technique of the Emirati and the Hadi supporters, and the obstacles were anti-tank mines scattered by the Houthis).

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

As already mentioned, the mainstream media poorly covered the UAE participation, but some local militants liked to post photos in Facebook and something can always be found. For example, an article published by a French newspaper reported that one Leclerc MBT was “struck by an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), most likely a 9M113 or its Iranian copy, in the front section, killing the driver mechanic and the tank commander was wounded in the legs.” The name of the deceased is Ghalib Amar Al-Marri (pictured, killed on September 13) and another soldier died the next day, possibly in the same place. The destroyed MBT was not caught by the camera lens, however if it did, we did not find the frames yet, but were taken by another Leclerc MBT, which had been blown up by an anti-tank mine and minimally damaged.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

It is most likely that, after September 14-15, all UAE tanks were withdrawn to the rear, as reported by Sky News. Hadi supporters got through to the dam only on September 29, having lost dozens of Oshkosh L-ATV vehicles, but the commemorative picture with all the participants of the coalition was taken (with their flags, of course without any Yemeni flags).

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Chapter 5 – Terrorist Attacks in Aden

On October 6, 2015 suicide bombers from the local branch of the Caliphate carried out a series of expositions in Aden. The al-Qasr hotel, former temporary residence of the political elite of the Hadi government, and two command centres of the UAE Armed Forces were attacked.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

The photo of one command centre was posted on the Internet, where one of Leclerc MBT had been located. It is not clear whether the MBT arrived during the attack or after. That day the UAE army lost four soldiers.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Chapter 6 – Battle with AQAP

In June 2016, the UAE declared the withdrawal of the main part of its contingent from Yemen, but did not give up antiterrorist operations and in August 2016, several Leclerc MBTs participated in the mopping-up operation of Abyan governorate from Al-Qaeda. The media reported that the terrorists could not provide any serious resistance.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

A little earlier, in February, at least one Leclerc MBT was noticed in the Kirsh area, Lahidj governorate, one of the fronts of confrontation between the southerners and the Houthis.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Chapter 7 – Al Mokha

Realising that the naval blockade of Yemen does not work that well, as believed, and mountains of weapons and ballistic missiles continue to reach the Houthis, the coalition (mostly the UAE) decided to definitely cut off the northern part of Yemen from the sea. In early January Operation Golden Spear was launched whose aim was to capture all inhabited points in the western coast of Yemen, from Zubab in Taiz to Midi in the Hajj, historically named Tihamah.

Initially, four Leclerc MBTs EAU and one ARV took part in this operation, moving in one of the rear columns. They did not arrive in time for the battles for the small village of Zubab, but by January 21 the UAE battle tanks of the Armed Forces were already near the port Al Mokha, where two main battle tanks # 303 and # 302 were showing off in front of the Arab journalists’ cameras.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Two days later, the MBTs were in battle, where one (board number 302) was damaged by ATGM fire, most likely in the lower glacis plate.  In the photo, one of southerners is holding a spare track, and an oil puddle is observed under the battle tank, presumably diesel fuel from the tank behind the front armour. The crew was very lucky, as the missile did not get into the front of the tank. Also, the moment of strike was filmed.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

A few days later, in the suburbs of Mochi, the southerners got a 9K115-2 Metis-M anti-tank missile system as a trophy, which most likely knocked out the Emirati tank.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

By August 2017, the group of troops on the West coast continued to increase and a few Leclerc MBTs arrived.

Chapter 8 – Al Hudaydah

After Saleh’s death in the brief internecine war with the Houthis in Sana’a, the Emirati and southerners continued to move along the West coast of Yemen as part of Operation Golden Spear and captured Al Khukha and Hais.

In December 2017, on the road between Mokha and Khukha, convoys of UAE’s troops were noticed. These convoys consisted of Leclerc MBT AMX-56, African mine-protected self-propelled howitzer G6 Rhino, American turreted self-propelled howitzer M109, multi-purpose mine-resistant ambush protected infantry mobility vehicle RG-31 Agrab, armoured personnel carrier (AMV) Patria, multi-functional vehicle platform WiSENT 2, Oshkosh M-ATV and armoured vehicle BAE Caiman.

Taking into account the experience of using MBTs in Mokha, only battle tanks with extra protection were used, some were armoured with the CLARA ERA defensive system, produced by the German company Dynamit Nobel Defence (DND). In 2016, more than 200 units, each worth more than 500 thousand euros, were supplied to the UAE.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

Tanks with AZUR were also used.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

After December, no official information has been received over the Leclerc MBT employment in Al Hudaydah, however, on February 19, the Houthis posted a video with an alleged Leclerc MBT smoldering as its profile does not look like any other type of armoured vehicle used in the conflict. The location of picture is to the north of the Yakhtul village, which is halfway between Al Mokha and Al Chukhai, where the UAE Armed Forces are presumably located.

Leclerc MBT: Yemen Testing Ground

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