Yemen's pro-government troops fought pockets of resistance outside a key military base in the country's south Tuesday, a day after they seized it from Shiite rebels, military officials said.
The capture of the Al-Anad base – once the site of U.S. intelligence operations against Al Qaeda's powerful Yemeni affiliate – was a significant victory for the forces allied to Yemen's exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in their battle to reverse the gains of the rebels known as Houthis.
The base was taken by the rebels when the conflict intensified in the spring and was their main encampment in the country's south. The pro-government forces took 45 prisoners in the battle for the base and were marching north toward another rebel-held military base called Labouza – the largest in the south, the military officials said.
As Al-Anad fell, rebel fighters fled to the nearby hills, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Yemen's Defense Ministry announced the "liberation of Al-Anad military base" in a statement late Monday, thanking the Saudi-led coalition that has been targeting theHouthis in an air campaign since March.
Ministry officials and military leaders from Hadi's government in exile in Saudi Arabia, returned to the southern city of Aden last week and the statement was issued from there. In a statement carried by rebel-controlled news agency SABA late Monday, the rebels denied the base had been taken.
It took several days to capture Al-Anad, with pro-government troops, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, pushing toward the base as coalition airstrikes cleared the path for their advance. Military officials said allied fighters had cut off the main road between al-Anad and the embattled city of Taiz for the first time since theHouthis took control of it in March.
The fighting in Yemen pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and President Hadi's loyalists.
After months of fierce fighting, pro-government forces also recently pushed rebels out of Aden and advanced in Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city.
Since last month, they have received military supplies shipped by sea to Aden, including new heavy and medium weapons and ammunition such as tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles in shipments from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The spokesman of the Yemeni government in exile, Rageh Badie, said the government also has requested flights on Yemen's national carrier bound for the rebel-held capital Sanaa to be diverted to Aden.
In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency said 100,000 people have fled the fighting in Yemen over the past four months. UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters that the agency only has one fifth of the funds needed to meet this outflow.
"With funding also low for operations inside Yemen, UNHCR is concerned that delivery of assistance there, as well as to refugees fleeing the country, will be at risk without additional funding soon," Edwards said.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.