Army ousts militants from Yemen airport HQ after hours-long battle

AFP , Wednesday 6 Jul 2016

File Photo: Yemeni government forces in Aden (Photo: Reuters)

Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition recaptured army headquarters at Aden airport from suspected Islamist militants after an hours-long firefight on Wednesday, the base commander said.

There was no immediate word on the fate of the officers who had been inside the building when it was seized by between 15 and 20 militants in the early hours.

The militants had penetrated the base after detonating two car bombs that killed at least 10 soldiers in the latest attack on security forces to hit the southern port city where Yemen's government took refuge after rebels seized the capital Sanaa.

"Troops and special forces have regained control of the base after pushing back the jihadists, several of whom were killed in the fighting," base commander General Nasser Sarie told AFP.

The recapture of the headquarters building came after troops exchanged rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire with the militants throughout the morning.

Apache attack helicopters of a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in support of the government in March last year were in the skies above the base, witnesses said.

The base commander said coalition forces had assisted in the recapture of the headquarters building.

The assailants, who were wearing military uniforms, penetrated the airport garrison after setting off one car bomb at its entrance then ramming through a second and detonating it inside, a military source said.

The twin bombs killed at least 10 soldiers. "The attackers were jihadists," the source said.

Troops also came under mortar fire from outside the airport perimeter, the source said.

The attack came as Muslims celebrated the feast of Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Security forces in Aden have come under repeated attack from both the Islamic State group and its jihadist rival Al-Qaeda.

The port city of Aden is under the control of government forces who are struggling to secure it more than a year after it was taken back from Houthi Shia rebels who have seized control of large parts of the country.

Both Al-Qaeda and IS have exploited the power vacuum created by the conflict between the government and the rebels to expand their presence in the south and southeast.

Last month, CIA director John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Al-Qaeda had several thousand "adherents and fighters" in Yemen while there are also "several hundred" fighters loyal to IS.

In May, twin suicide bombings in Aden claimed by IS killed at least 41 people.

A spate of shootings in April and May claimed the lives of the city's traffic police chief and the governor of its main prison, while the chief of police escaped two assassination attempts in the space of a week, one of which killed four of his guards.

Washington considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be the network's deadliest franchise and has vowed no let-up in its longstanding air war against the jihadists.

A US drone attack killed three suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Shabwa province east of Aden on Monday, a security official said. On Friday, a similar drone attack in Shabwa killed four suspected jihadists.

In March this year, the Saudi-led coalition too turned its sights on the jihadists after a year of focusing its firepower on the Houthi rebels and their allies.

Emirati and Saudi special forces helped government forces to recapture the southeastern city of Mukalla from Al-Qaeda in April ending a year of jihadist rule.

But in Mukalla too, the government has struggled to secure the city and there have been repeated deadly reprisal bombings by the jihadists.

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