Aden // Pro-government forces stormed a military camp close to Sanaa on Monday in a victory that takes them a step closer to recapturing the capital.
Clashes continued into the evening inside the sprawling complex located on a large site in Fardhat Nihm district, 40km from the city.
The camp is used by Yemen’s Republican Guards, an elite force of soldiers who stayed loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he was forced from power by a popular uprising in 2011.
Mr Saleh allied himself with Houthi rebels in 2014 when they took over Sanaa and drove out the internationally recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. The sections of the armed forces still loyal to Saleh provided much of the military muscle behind the Houthi campaign.
With the help of the anti-Houthi popular resistance, Yemeni army forces loyal to Mr Hadi seized several mountains in Nihm district to the East of Sanaa during the last few days. By Monday afternoon, the forces were able to storm the camp, Yemeni commander Brigadier Murad Turaiq told The National.
The troops were backed by air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition including raids by Emirati Mirage jets, which helped them advance swiftly on ground.
“The clashes are still continuing inside the camp, while the air strikes support the ground forces to advance inside the camp,” Brig Turaiq added.
He said pro-government forces recaptured most of the camp, but there are still some Houthi fighters inside it. “We cut the supplies from the rest of the Houthi fighters inside the camp, and I think that they will surrender soon.”
There are a series of small rocky mountains inside the camp which make it difficult to secure completely, he said.
The victory came after the pro-Hadi forces crossed into Aden province from the liberated Marib province at the end of last year.
Once the pro-government forces are in complete control of Nihm district, they would be able to focus on Arhab district — a former stronghold of the conservative Islah party, which fiercely opposes the Iran-backed Houthis. The capture of Arhab would take them right up to the northern edge of Sanaa city.
In another victory on Monday, 76 soldiers and officers from another Republican Guards camp outside Sanaa defected from Saleh and the Houthis to join pro-government forces, according to Brig Turaiq.
But as the fighting continued in Sanaa and particularly in the besieged city of Taez, extremist groups took advantage of the situation further south.
Early on Monday, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took over an area in Shabwa province, which had previously been under the control of the Popular Resistance.
A journalist based in Shabwa, Zabeen Atyah, said the militants replaced the resistance’s fighters in the Azan area without any clashes.
“Azan is the stronghold of AQAP in Shabwa province, and no one can fight them in Azan, so the Popular Resistance did not fight them in the area and withdrew from their checkpoints,” he added.
Al Qaeda took over Azan in 2012, but there was a military campaign in April 2014 that drove them out.
Azan is a commercial area, and centre for four districts in Shabwa province, which is split between resistance control, the Houthis and Al Qaeda.