SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A missile and drone attack on a key military base in Yemen’s south on Sunday killed at least 30 troops, a Yemeni military spokesman said. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s civil war in recent years.
Mohammed al-Naqib, spokesman for Yemen’s southern forces, told The Associated Press the attack on Al-Anad Air Base in the province of Lahj wounded at least 65. He said the casualty toll could rise since rescue teams were still clearing the site.
Graphic footage from the scene showed several charred bodies on the ground with ambulance sirens blaring in the background.
Yemeni officials said at least three explosions took place at the air base, which is held by the internationally recognized government. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when Houthi rebels swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government.
A ballistic missile landed in the base’s training area, where dozens of troops were doing morning exercises, the officials said. Medics described a chaotic scene following the explosions, with soldiers carrying their wounded colleagues to safety, fearing another attack.
Solider Nasser Saeed survived that attack. He was taken along with other wounded to the Naqib hospital in Aden. He said a barracks that housed over 50 troops had been hit by missiles, then explosives-laden drones.
“We were able to shoot down one (drone),” he said. “Many were killed and wounded.”
Most of the wounded were taken to the nearby Ibn Khaldun hospital, where health officials said many of the wounded were in critical condition and suffer third degree burns.
The officials blamed the Houthis for the attack on the base, once the site of U.S. intelligence operations against al-Qaida’s powerful Yemeni affiliate. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
The victims belong to the pro-government Giants Brigades, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates. The unit said in a statement that the attack involved a number of ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones. The UAE is a main pillar of the Saudi-led coalition.
The military spokesman for the Houthis did not confirm or deny the attack, which carried the hallmarks of the Iranian-backed rebels. The Houthis have previously launched similar attacks, including one by a bomb-laden drone on Al-Anad in January 2019 that killed six troops.
The Iranian-backed rebels also launched a missile attack on the airport in the southern city of Aden in December as government officials arrived. That attack killed at least 25 people and wounded 110 others.
The Houthis had seized the Al-Anad base in the months after their 2014 takeover of Sanaa, before government forces reclaimed it during the battle to reverse the gains of the rebels.
Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani said the attack would undermine international efforts to establish a cease-fire in Yemen.
“This terrorist attack affirms once again that the continuation of Houthi militia in the approach of military escalation,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sunday’s attack on the base came as the Houthi rebels face stiff resistance and suffered heavy losses in their monthslong attempt to take the crucial city of Marib from the internationally recognized government. Thousands of fighters, mostly from the Houthis, were killed in recent months in Marib.
The Houthi offensive on Marib, combined with an increase of missile and explosives-laden drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, has come amid mounting international efforts to halt the fighting and relaunch talks between the warring parties to end the war in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The stalemated conflict in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Magdy reported from Cairo.