Government forces in Yemen now control the key Bab al-Mandab Strait through which much of the world’s maritime traffic passes after retaking it from Shiite rebels, a general said Friday.
“The Bab al-Mandab Strait is now under the total control of our troops,” General Turki Ahmed told AFP.
Ahmed was one of the commanders of an offensive that Thursday seized the island of Mayyun (Perim) between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
The narrow waterway, which separates Yemen from Djibouti only some 20 miles (32 kilometers) away, funnels shipping to and from the Suez Canal, which lies at the north end of the Red Sea.
President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and his government returned to Aden last month following six months in exile, after loyalist forces regained control of the port city and four other southern provinces from militias.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia group still controls the capital and northern provinces near the border with Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition seized Bab al-Mandab and Dhubab in the southern province of Taez near the strait, loyalist military official Abedrabbo al-Mihwali told AFP.
The strait had been in the hands of Houthis and their allies, units still loyal to ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, since March.
Bab al-Mandab was “brought under our control with the help of coalition forces, who provided ground, naval and air support,” General Ahmed said.
“The Houthis and their allies retreated to Mokha,” a Red Sea port some 20 kilometers (12 miles) further north.
“We are awaiting orders from the political leadership and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi for the next move in the offensive,” Ahmed added.
The attack took place “in response to rebel troop movements” towards Aden and the four other recaptured southern provinces, one source said.
Yemen’s temporary capital Aden “was targeted on Thursday by a Scud missile which hit a suburb west of the city,” a source said.
The Houthis had admitted losing control of the strategic strait.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, self-described “president of the High Committee of the Revolution,” sent a message to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon expressing “surprise” at Thursday’s attack “on Mayyun island and areas close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait.”
He viewed the assault as “a grave and irresponsible escalation,” and said it threatened “the security of international maritime navigation,” according to the text of the message released by the rebel-controlled Saba news agency.
In Aden, government spokesman Rajedh Badi outlined to AFP what could happen next.
“The next step for our forces will be to retake all of the coast along the Red Sea, including Mokha and Hodeida,” he said.SHOW MORE