Coalition-backed Yemeni forces liberate Mokha port from Houthis

Government officials say the city was a key entry point for an Iranian weapons pipeline to the Houthis and allied military units still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemeni loyalist forces patrol a main road near Mokha on January 20, 2017. Saleh Al Obeidi / AFP
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ADEN // Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition liberated the strategic Red Sea port city of Mokha from the Houthis on Monday afternoon.

A force comprised of the national army loyal to the internationally recognised government, Southern Resistance tribal militias and Salafi fighters liberated Mokha city centre and its port from the Houthi rebels and their allies after fierce clashes that lasted for two days, according to a Yemeni military spokesman.

Coalition jets, helicopters and warships carried out missile and air strikes against rebel targets, while UAE tanks and special forces supported the push, which has seen fierce fighting with dozens killed on both sides.

The spokesperson of the fourth military region, Mohammed Al Naqeeb, said the northern entrance of Mokha was still under the control of Houthi rebels.

“The Saudi-led airstrikes and battleships participated in the liberation of Mokha and more than 50 Houthis were killed and dozens injured but there are still some snipers towards the northern entrance of Mokha,” Mr Al Naqeeb told Moraqboon press, a local news site.

The commander of the Taez military axis of the national army, Khalid Fadhel, told the armed forces media centre that pro-government forces were still clearing the city of pockets of Houthi rebels.

A commander leading troops in the field said there was also fighting on the southern outskirts of Mokha.

Dozens of families were seen fleeing the city as the fighting raged on Monday.

The victory is the latest advance for the coalition-backed operation Golden Spear that was launched on January 7 and aimed at securing Yemen’s western coast around the key Bab Al Mandeb strait, a chokepoint between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Until now, the rebels have controlled most of the 450 kilometre coastline, using it as a launching pad for attacks on the international shipping lanes that carry eight per cent of the world’s trade – including striking an Emirati vessel and firing at US warships.

The small fishing village of Dhubab was the first port to be retaken from the rebels two weeks ago. A government statement on Monday claimed both Dhubab and Mokha had been fully cleared.

Government officials say Mokha is a key port for an Iranian weapons pipeline to the Houthis and allied military units still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. There have been claims that the operation’s next target is Hodeidah, the largest port in territory controlled by the rebels, but these have not been confirmed.

The pro-government forces hope to isolate rebel forces even further by cutting off the ports and tip the balance in favour of anti-rebel fighters in the key frontline in Taez city.

Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi congratulated the pro-government forces and the people of Yemen on the victory in Mokha, and urged the forces to achieve new victories across the country’s many front lines – which until now have mostly fallen into stalemate – until they liberate the whole country from the rebels, the UAE’s state news agency, Wam, cited Yemen’s official Saba news agency as saying.

Mr Hadi also praised the role of the Saudi and Emirati coalition forces, which played a key role in the liberation of Mokha and other areas.

A journalist with the Saudi television channel Al Ekhbariya, Asen Al Sabri, who accompanied the forces up to the district of Thubaba, 15km south of Mokha, confirmed they had liberated most of the city and the port, but said sappers were still clearing landmines planted by the rebels in and around the town.

“The forces liberated the city and port … but there are still some Houthi fighters in the northern entrance of Mokha towards Al Khawkha area,” he told The National.

Meanwhile, an Emirati ship arrived at the Yemeni port of Mukalla on Monday with food supplies and medical equipment to support health services in Hadramaut province.

Abdullah Al Musafri, head of the Emirates Red Crescent team in Hadramawt, said the shipment was part of a sealift of UAE aid to Yemen.

* With reporting from Agence France-Presse and Reuters