Pro-government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition retook Yemen’s biggest airbase from Houthi rebels on Tuesday in a significant new gain after their recapture of second city Aden last month.
Their seizure of the Al-Anad base in a 24-hour assault using heavy armour supplied by the coalition came after hundreds of Gulf Arab troops landed in Aden to bolster the loyalist fightback.
Hailing victory in the battle for Al-Anad, the Defence Ministry vowed there would be no let-up in the war against the Houthi rebels and their allies until the authority of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi was restored over the whole country.
The Al-Anad base, 60 kilometres north of Aden, is strategically located on the main road north towards both the battleground third city of Taez and the rebel-held capital Sanaa.
The vast 15 square km complex housed US troops overseeing a drone war against Al Qaeda in Yemen until shortly before the rebels overran it in March.
Its loss is a major blow for the rebels, whose leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi claimed just Sunday that their ouster from Aden after four months of ferocious fighting was just a “short-term” setback that would be reversed.
Pro-government sources said that the rebels lost 70 dead and 10 captured in the fighting for Al-Anad.
The loyalists suffered 24 dead and 23 wounded.
Officers who took part in the assault said that the rebels had put up “stiff resistance” but that Saudi-led air strikes had helped destroy their armour.
The loyalists had deployed hundreds of troops and militia equipped with tanks and armoured vehicles supplied by the coalition.
The recapture of Al-Anad is a major boost for the defence of Aden and paves the way for a possible return by the exiled government to the southern port which was its last refuge before it fled into exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia in March.
On Sunday, hundreds of Gulf Arab troops from the coalition entered Aden with tanks and other armour “to help secure” it, a military source told AFP.
The Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper said 1,500 troops, most of them from the United Arab Emirates, had deployed to the city.