Fighters loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, bolstered by Gulf Arab support, seized the country’s largest military base from Houthi forces on Monday after heavy combat in which dozens were killed or captured, a pro-Hadi commander said.
If confirmed, the victory would mark another significant gain for the Hadi loyalists after they drove the Houthis from the southern port of Aden in July following months on the defensive.
The recapture of the al-Anad base also opens up the road north to the city of Taiz, where Iranian-allied Houthi militias have been locked in combat with local fighters siding with Hadi.
“The national army and the popular resistance have completed control of the al-Anad military and air base,” the operation commander, Brigadier-General Fadel Hassan, told Reuters by telephone.
He said dozens of Houthis were killed or captured during hours of clashes, while hundreds have fled. His forces were combing the base, which covers an area of 40 square km (15 square miles) for any Houthis who may have remained behind.
He said his force would march on to complete the “liberation” of the provinces of Lahej and Abyan.
There was no word from the Houthis on the outcome of the battle. The Houthi-run Saba news agency said earlier that Saudi-led air raids had repeatedly struck the military base.
The base has been under siege for weeks by the Southern Resistance, an alliance of southern groups including secessionists seeking an independent south Yemen.
The assault began after new weapons, including armored vehicles that had been supplied by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, arrived to reinforce fighters.
Witnesses said they saw dozens of new armored vehicles heading in two separate columns in the morning towards al-Anad.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition that has been pursuing an air campaign inside Yemen since March against the Houthis.
The Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and northern parts of the deeply impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation.
Coalition planes targeted Houthi and Saleh-allied militias in the country’s eastern province of Taez on Monday, according to Al Arabiya News Channel.
The leader of the Iranian-backed Houthis said on Sunday he was ready for a political settlement to end the war in Yemen.
“A political solution is still possible, internally,” Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said in a speech live on television, without elaborating.
During the speech, Houthi urged his militia to fight on against Yemen’s government, dismissing its recapture of Aden last month as a ‘limited’ achievement made possible by Ramadan.
He said Aden’s fall occurred only because some Houthis had returned home to be with their families at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Continue and move in your resistance. You are in a strong position. And you are on the way to win,” he said. “We are in a battle, a great battle, in which we must use all our efforts.”
“The enemy, when it threw all its weight and carried out thousands of raids, succeeded in limited achievements. They took advantage of an opportunity,” Houthi said, referring to Ramadan.
Houthi accused his foes of resorting to alliances with both militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Israel in their assault on the southern port city.
Yemen’s government retook much of Aden in July, supported by air strikes waged by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies.
(With AFP and Reuters)SHOW MORE