Houthi Rebels Kill 45 U.A.E. Soldiers in Yemen Fighting
SANA, Yemen — The United Arab Emirates said on Friday that 45 of its soldiers were killed fighting Houthi insurgents in a province east of Yemen’s capital, in a major setback for the coalition of Arab forces that have been trying for months to vanquish the rebels.
The death toll was the largest in a single day for the military of the United Arab Emirates, the Persian Gulf nation that has assumed a central role in the Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore Yemen’s exiled government to power.
A statement carried by a Houthi-run news agency said that the deaths came after the rebels fired what it called a ballistic missile at a military base used by the coalition in Marib Province, striking an arms depot and destroying other equipment, including Apache helicopters.
Bahrain, another member of the Saudi coalition, said on Friday that five of its soldiers also had been killed.
The casualties undercut recent battlefield gains by the Saudi-backed forces as well as confident assertions by Yemeni government officials that the coalition was poised to rout the Houthis from their stronghold in the capital, Sana.
With more than 4,000 people killed, Yemen has hosted one of the region’s bloodiest conflicts since the coalition began bombing the Houthis and their allies nearly six months ago.
The casualties reported Friday came at time when diplomats had been hoping to move the antagonists closer to a cease-fire. In a sign of how the conflict could quickly escalate, warplanes of the Saudi-led forces carried out some of the most intense airstrikes on the capital in weeks on Friday. They bombed military targets on the outskirts but also targeted the Defense Ministry, near Sana’s historic old city, a Unesco World Heritage site, sending residents of nearby buildings fleeing the area.
The Emirates state news agency said the country’s fighters had carried out “destructive airstrikes” against “strongholds of the rebellious militias.”
The Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March after the Houthis, a northern rebel group, drove the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power and into exile. After months of a stalemated battle, Emirati soldiers played a critical role in shifting the war in favor of the coalition, including by helping anti-Houthi forces recapture Aden, a port city in Yemen’s south.
The forceful military intervention by the United Arab Emirates, which has committed thousands of troops, was part of a united effort by the Sunni Persian Gulf monarchies to counter what they viewed as Iran’s backing of the Shiite-led Houthis. While Friday’s high death toll was unprecedented for the Gulf states fighting in the coalition, dozens of allied Yemeni anti-Houthi fighters have been killed in “friendly fire” attacks by coalition warplanes.
The Houthis have long denied receiving significant support from Iran and said in their statement on Friday that the attack on the base was “a legitimate response by the army and popular committees to the crimes and genocide committed by the Saudi aggression and its mercenaries.”