Yemen: At least 30 killed in Houthi strikes on major air base

Strikes on Yemen’s largest airbase Sunday killed and injured pro-government troops in the attack on Al-Anad airbase in the government-held southern province of Lahij.

At least 30 soldiers were killed and 60 wounded on Sunday in Houthi strikes on a military base belonging to forces of the Saudi-led coalition in southwest Yemen, a spokesman for the southern forces and medical sources said, according to Reuters.

Video footage from the scene showed dozens of people gathered in front of the hospital, where one ambulance after another was pulling up to drop off casualties.

“We have called on the entire staff, surgeons and nurses, to come in,” Mohsen Murshid, an official from the hospital, told AFP. “We also know that there are still bodies under the rubble”.

The Houthis have carried out several attacks using armed drones and ballistic missiles on the al-Anad military base, Yemeni southern forces spokesman Mohamed al-Naqeeb said.

Naqeeb said that between 30 to 40 soldiers were killed and at least 60 wounded, adding the death toll may still rise as rescuers were still clearing the scene.

The internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, and the Houthis have been locked in war since 2014, when the rebels seized the capital, Sanaa.

The southern forces are part of the Saudi-led coalition.

Two medical sources said several bodies had arrived at Lahj province’s main hospital along with another 16 wounded people. It was unclear if civilians were among the casualties.

Residents said that several loud blasts were heard in the al-Anad area, which is located at some 70 km (43 miles) north of the southern port city of Aden.

Several other residents from the disputed central city of Taiz said they heard ballistic missiles fired from launchers positioned in the Houthi-held eastern suburbs of the city.

In 2019, the Houthis launched a drone strike on al-Anad during a military parade, with medics and government sources saying at the time at least six loyalists were killed, including a high-ranking intelligence official. 

Al-Anad was the headquarters for US troops overseeing a long-running drone war against al-Qaeda until March 2014, when it was overrun by the Houthi rebels.

It was recaptured by pro-government forces in 2015 who recovered territory from the rebels across the south with support from the Saudi-led coalition.

Sunday’s incident is one of the deadliest since December 2020, when blasts targeting cabinet members rocked Aden airport.

At the time, at least 26 people, including three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a journalist, were killed and scores wounded in the explosions as ministers disembarked from an aircraft in the southern city.

Earlier on Sunday, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi expressed condolences for the dead and vowed that the “Houthis will pay heavily for all the crimes they have committed against the people of Yemen”.

Yemen’s largest air base, al-Anad is located in Lahj province near the front lines of fighting between the STC and the Houthi movement. While most military bases near active conflict lines in Yemen were repositioned to safer areas, al-Anad has remained operational despite a number of costly attacks.

In 2019, the Houthi movement hit the air base with a drone strike that left six people dead and more than 25 injured, with high ranking officials among the casualties. Al-Anad was also the headquarters for US troops overseeing a long-running drone war against al-Qaeda until March 2014, when it was overrun by Houthi rebels.

Following Sunday’s attack, Colonel Mohammed al-Naqeeb, an STC spokesman, called on government forces to provide further protection for the base.

“We hope that the Saudi-led coalition provides us with modern weapons to deal with Houthi threats,” Naqeeb said during a news conference.

Meanwhile, those stationed at the air base have told MEE that the position remains uniquely vulnerable to Houthi attacks.

One STC fighter, who asked to be referred to only as Mokhtar, said that while he received quality training at al-Anad air base, it is known to be a dangerous posting.

“I know that al-Anad is one of the largest air bases in the country and it is a good place for soldiers to receive training, but it can be targeted by the Houthi militias any time,” he said.

“The Houthis targeted the soldiers during the morning queue – it isn’t right for soldiers to have to gather together in such areas so close to Houthi territory,” he said.

Mokhtar said that his understanding from his time being stationed at the base was that it had an air defense system providing some protections against missile or drone attacks, particularly given the fact that there are Emirati forces stationed there. But now he says that does not seem to be the case.

The war started in 2014 when the Houthis invaded Sanaa and ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in March 2015 to restore Hadi to power but the ensuing conflict, now stalemated, has killed tens of thousands and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The attacks came at a time when peace talks between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, and backed by the United Nations and the United States, have stalled after both sides failed to reach a compromise deal.

The talks are focused on steps to lift a blockade on Houthi-held ports and Sanaa airport in return for a promise from the Iran-aligned group for truce talks.

New Houthi drone attack intercepted

In a similar context, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said Sunday it had intercepted an overnight drone attack by Houthi rebels towards Saudi territories, reports Anadolu Agency.

A coalition statement cited by the Saudi state news agency SPA said Saudi air defenses destroyed a booby-trapped drone fired by Houthis towards the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait.

The drone attack was the seventh attempt by Iran-aligned rebels on Saudi territories in the past week.

Khamis Mushait is an agricultural and industrial city and hosts an airbase. In recent years, it has been a target of rebel drone and missile attacks from Yemen.

There was no comment from the Houthi group on the coalition statement.

Houthi rebels regularly announce rocket and drone attacks on Saudi territories, saying they are a reaction to the Saudi-led coalition’s assault on Yemen.

Yemen has been beset by violence and chaos since 2014, when Houthis overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. The crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict has claimed more than 233,000 lives.