Dozens of Yemeni pro-government fighters have been killed in a new offensive to take a rebel-held city, loyalist sources said on Tuesday, following a surge in violence including missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates.
Thirty-two soldiers have died and at least 100 have been wounded in three days of fighting to drive the Iran-backed rebels from Haradh, north of the capital Sanaa and near the Saudi border, the sources said.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war between the government — supported by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of the north, since 2014.
The latest clashes come after the Houthi rebels, after suffering territorial defeats to UAE-trained troops, killed three oil workers in a series of drone and missile attacks on Abu Dhabi.
Fighting was still raging around Haradh on Tuesday, the pro-government sources said, adding that the loyalists have besieged the area but are yet to seize the city.
One loyalist source said at least 56 rebels were killed in the fighting and accompanying coalition air strikes. The Houthis rarely report casualties in their ranks.
The Yemeni conflict has intensified in recent weeks, with the coalition and loyalist forces launching a series of offensives to recover territory lost to the rebels further south.
Meanwhile, the Houthis have stepped up their missile and drone attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia and have launched similar assaults on the United Arab Emirates, a member of the military coalition.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command who is in Abu Dhabi as part of efforts to bolster UAE defenses, said US forces were looking at ways to combat the rebel’s low-tech, low-flying drones, which are notoriously hard to spot and intercept.
“We are working with our partners here in the region and with the industry back in the United States to develop solutions that would work against drones,” McKenzie told the official WAM news agency.
“We would like to work against drones what we call ‘left of launch’, (which means) before they can be launched… And if you can’t do that, you will certainly be able to shoot them down as they reach their intended target.
“In all of those areas we’re working with our friends internationally as well as with industries in the United States to become more effective at that.”
The UAE has also used the US-built THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) system to combat rebel missiles, while Abu Dhabi-based US forces fired Patriot interceptors to help thwart one attack.
Meanwhile, the US has sent a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Cole, and will dispatch a squadron of fighter jets to help fend off attacks on the wealthy Gulf country.
The USS Cole, targeted in a deadly Al-Qaeda bombing in Yemen in 2000, will “patrol the waters of the UAE,” while the state-of-the-art F-22 fighter jets will arrive “over the next week or so,” McKenzie said.
The rebel attacks on the UAE have added a new dimension to Yemen’s long-running war, which has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly and displaced millions.
The war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene in support of the internationally recognized government the following year.
With millions living on the brink of famine, the UN calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.