UAE-backed forces in Yemen have launched a security operation to track down members of the Houthi militia seeking to flee the battle in Al Dhalea, a strategically important area north of the interim capital of Aden.
The operation detained eight Houthi rebels in various towns in Al Dhalea after clashes over the last few days caused dozens of casualties on both sides, Lt Waheed Al-Sufyani, the spokesman of the Security Belt Forces in Al Dhalea, told The National.
“Eight were seized in the first day and the security campaign will keep tracking down those who fled to Houthi controlled areas on the borders with Ibb province, we have accurate information regarding their whereabouts, among them high ranking figures embroiled in paving the way for the Houthis to take control over some villages,” Lt Al-Sufyani added
The battle in Al Dhalea has proven to be deadly as the Iran-backed Houthis have sent more than three brigades from the port city of Hodeidah to the province.
The clashes have killed at least five pro-government troops, who have also been reinforced by fighters from Hodeidah.
On the fourth day of the battle, the Houthis have broken ranks on the Mers front, a crucial road leading from the interim capital of Aden to the north.
This has led the government-aligned forces to begin a sweep of the mountainous region in pursuit of rebel fighters who have fled the battle.
The government-aligned forces have also cracked down on locals working as informants for the Houthi militias.
“They provide them with information about the movement of the pro-government forces and recruit children to fight with the Houthis and provide them with information about the sites where our forces are deployed,” said Lt Al Sufyani.
Among those caught was Colonel Abdulkareem Al-Sayadi, commander of the 30th armoured brigade, who was suspected of feeding the Houthis information on the battlefront and providing them with live updates of military tactics.
"Al-Sayadi was sacked from his position three weeks ago, the Houthis re-controlled 3 villages north Qatabah the following day of his dismiss which means he gave them the green light to advance," the military source told The National.
The battle comes as both sides negotiate a withdrawal from Hodeidah – a crucial step for a political solution to the civil war, which is now in its fourth year.
Al Dhalea is symbolically important to government troops because it was the first region they liberated from the Houthis after the coup in 2015.