ROME: An Italian military plane headed for Afghanistan was refused permission to use United Arab Emirates airspace on Tuesday, triggering a formal diplomatic complaint from Rome to Abu Dhabi.

The plane was taking journalists and military officers to a ceremony for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan, where they were stationed as part of Nato’s Resolute Support Mission.

Because of the UAE’s refusal, the aircraft was forced to make an unplanned stop in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and then continued its journey via a longer route, the AGI news agency reported.

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement it had summoned the UAE ambassador to Rome, Omar Obaid Al Shamsi, in protest.

The ministry’s top civil servant “conveyed to the ambassador his surprise and strong disappointment for a gesture that is hard to understand”, the statement said.

The Ansa news agency and other Italian media linked the snub to Italy’s decision earlier this year to make permanent a freeze in arms sales to UAE due to the country’s role in the Yemenr.

The ceremony for the Italian military pullout in the western Afghan city of Herat still went ahead, but was delayed to allow for the late arrival of the plane from Rome.

Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini and top Italian military commanders, who travelled on another plane that followed a different route, were present.

Italy had almost 900 troops as part of the Nato mission in Afghanistan _ the third largest contributor at that time after the United States and Germany.

The US and allied forces are in the final stages of pulling out their remaining troops from Afghanistan, ending Washington’s longest-ever war, but heralding an uncertain future for a nation in the tightening grip of Taliban.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2021

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