Airstrikes kill 30 Yemen government soldiers headed to attack separatists in Aden

ADEN :Airstrikes hit Yemeni government forces heading to the southern port city of Aden to fight separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, killing at least 30 troops, a government commander said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the airstrikes but the government side blamed the UAE, which has armed and trained separatist militias in southern Yemen. Officials in the UAE declined to immediately comment.

Infighting has raged for weeks between Yemeni government forces and the separatists, even though the two are allies in a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the country’s north since 2015. The UAE is also part of that coalition.

The southern Yemeni separatists have vowed revenge against government forces for their assault on Aden and dispatched reinforcements from elsewhere. The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) said some of its troops positioned on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, which is under Houthi control, had returned to Aden to join the battle against Hadi’s forces.

“To whoever said the Southern Resistance has fled, I say: We are here,” Hani Ben Brik, STC’s vice-president, said in a video shared on social media showing him with dozens of his fighters outside Aden’s airport building.

A brigade of the STC’s Giants Brigades had arrived in Aden from the Hodeidah theatre to support the fight against government forces, an STC statement said.

Yemen troops were headed to Aden

Col. Mohamed al-Oban, a commander of the special forces in Abyan province, said the troops were on the road, headed from Abyan toward Aden on Thursday, when the strikes took place. He didn’t say who carried them out, saying only the planes were from the Saudi-led coalition. The UAE also maintains warplanes as part of the coalition in Yemen.

Yemen’s foreign ministry tweeted a statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami, saying: “The government condemns the Emirati airstrike on government forces.”

“We hold the UAE fully responsible for this explicit extra-judicial targeting” of the government forces, the statement said, adding that the airstrikes also left several civilians dead but without providing a specific death toll. The government statement also urged the U.N. Security Council to condemn the airstrikes.

Pro-government soldiers patrol an area taken by government forces (Reuters /File Photo)

Earlier on Wednesday, government troops wrested back control of Zinjibar, the capital of neighboring Abyan province, from the separatists and headed toward Aden.

Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani said Wednesday that government forces also reclaimed Aden’s airport, the main hub for the country’s south, but the separatists denied that. According to officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter with reporters, forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi gained some ground at the Aden airport complex before the separatists forced them to retreat.

The southern separatists of Yemen

Yemen was split into two countries, the North and South Yemen, during much of the Cold War before unifying in 1990 but a separatist movement has continued in the south

The separatists seek to restore the South Yemen republic which merged with the north in 1990. They had clashed occasionally with government forces for several years before major new hostilities erupted this month.

Southern separatist fighters patrol a road during clashes with government forces in Aden. (Reuters)

The separatists and the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are supposed allies in the Saudi-led coalition in its four-year-old war against Iran-aligned Houthis, who hold Yemen’s capital Sanaa in the north and most of the country’s populated areas.

But the United Arab Emirates – which backed the battle against the Houthis – fell out with Hadi’s side because it includes a party the UAE sees as close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead it chose to train and support separatist militias.