Backed by Saudi-led air strikes, forces fighting on the side of President Hadi recapture southern al-Anad base.by Al Jazeera
Forces battling Houthi rebels in Yemen say they have captured the country’s largest military base following intense clashes which left dozens killed.
In a statement on Monday, the exiled government claimed the complete control of al-Anad base, which is in Lahej province in southern Yemen.
“With the help and back-up of the Arab-led coaltion, this achievement was possible,” the statement said.
Troops were also supported by Popular Resistance Committees who have sided with the government in the fight against the Houthis.
The Houthis’ loss of the base deals a significant blow to the Shia rebel group, which has seized large parts of the country but recently lost control of the southern port city of Aden.
Nasser Hadour, an officer in the Popular Resistance, told Al Jazeera that their forces were also able to enter another military base between al-Sader and al-Madina al-Khadra in Lahej province.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, who has covered Yemen extensively, explained that while the Popular Resistance Committees are against the Houthis, they form a loose umbrella group whose members do not necessarily back exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“They have been forced together by the Houthi threat but they have different agendas. Many of them are southern secessionists who in fact see Hadi as a threat,” he said.
The Yemeni army has been split since the Houthis’ advance last year. Some units backing deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting alongside the Houthis, while others remain loyal to Hadi.
“The Saudi-led coalition is training anti-Houthi forces, providing them with new weapons to build a new army from scratch,” our correspondent said. “Their aim is to maintain Yemen united under one leader and a professional army. But that aim will depend on how the different factions get along. Yemen remains divided along regional and sectarian ties.”
Houthi rebels and its allies had been in control of al-Anad since March.
Spread over 40 square kilometres, the base houses a military airport, a war college, and an arms depot.
It was previously used by US forces as an intelligence gathering hub and base for drone attacks on al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The assault by anti-Houthi forces began after new weapons, including armoured vehicles that had been supplied by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, arrived to reinforce fighters.
At least 50 Houthis and troops loyal to Hadi were killed in fighting for the base, military sources told Al Jazeera. At least 23 Popular Resistance fighters were also killed, the sources added.
There was no word from the Houthis on the outcome of the battle, but the Houthi-run Saba news agency said earlier that Saudi-led air raids had repeatedly struck the military base.
Al-Anad lies on road to Taiz, the next target for the coalition after their recapture of Aden.
The military says controlling al-Anad will help the push to recapture Taiz and the southern provinces.
Hadi remains in Saudi Arabia, where he fled in March as the Houthis closed in on his refuge in Aden.
The Houthis broke out of their northern strongholds and seized control of the capital Sanaa in September, plunging Yemen into another bout of conflict.