Apr 3, 2015 11:37 AM

Saudi-led coalition airdrops arms to Yemeni forces

The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) A Saudi-led coalition trying to halt the advance of Yemen's Shiite rebels airdropped weapons to beleaguered fighters in a southern port city on Friday, while al-Qaida militants captured a key Yemeni military base in the east, further expanding their foothold in this impoverished country.

The developments underscore the magnitude of Yemen's turmoil and the swift unraveling of the country's military and forces still loyal to embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled Yemen to Saudi Arabia last week.

On one, side there is the ferocious fighting between Shiite rebels known as Houthis and southern militias loyal to Hadi. On the other, Yemen's al-Qaida branch has been expanding its footprint in the country and gobbling up more territory.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the branch of the terror network is named, has been benefiting from the turmoil ever since the Houthis first surged from their northern strongholds last year to take over the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north. The rebels are backed in the campaign by military and police forces loyal to Hadi's predecessor, ousted autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Thursday, al-Qaida militants overrun Mukalla, a major port city in southern Yemen and the provincial capital of the country's largest province, Hadramawt, seizing government buildings and freeing inmates from a prison, including a top Saudi-born leader.

On Friday, the militants consolidated their hold of Mukalla, capturing its port and a major army base in the city, facing little resistance, said military officials.

Meanwhile, to the west of Mukalla, Saudi-led airstrikes were continuing to target Shiite rebels advancing on the southern port city of Aden, Yemen's major hub and the embattled Hadi's last seat of power before he fled to Saudi Arabia.

Coalition planes early on Friday airdropped weapons to fighters battling the Houthis in Aden, the first such airdrop since the strikes began nine days ago.

Street battles intensified Friday in several Aden districts, including the vicinity of a major weapons depot, according to the military officials. They said that weapons were dropped above the city's port.

Local pro-Hadi fighters, who are poorly armed, have been trying to keep the Houthis from overrunning Aden and the surrounding province and have often complained of lack of weapons and leadership. Ali Hussein, one of the fighters, told The Associated Press over the phone that there is "near absence of leadership and coordination."

Overnight airstrikes focused on Aden's rebel-held airport, and at least 30 rebels and Saleh's forces were killed in the strikes, according to medical officials.

The U.N. humanitarian agency said Thursday that the violence in Yemen has killed an estimated 519 people in the past two weeks, 90 of them children, and that tens of thousands are fleeing their homes.

According to a medical official in the town of Abdel-Nasser al-Wali, a southern base near Aden, 150 civilians were killed in Aden alone since March 28. The official said two Red Crescent ambulance workers were also killed by rebels, who seized their vehicles.

In the town of al-Mualla, also in Aden province, pro-Hadi fighters fought with the rebels on Friday, leaving at least eight dead on both sides, according to medical officials there.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.


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