People inspect buildings destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. (AP / Hani Mohammed)
SANAA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia’s military said Saturday that 10 of its troops were killed in a rebel missile strike a day earlier in Yemen, raising the death toll in the attack to at least 55 coalition troops killed.
It was the first public acknowledgement by the Saudis that they have ground troops in Yemen, where they lead a coalition targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies.
The United Arab Emirates lost 45 troops in the attack Friday, when rebels hit an ammunition depot in Marib, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital, Sanaa. It was the deadliest day for the UAE’s military in the nation’s 44-year history.
“Ten Saudi soldiers from the Arab coalition forces were martyred,” in the attack on the weapons depot, Saudi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said in a statement.
The Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition, made up mainly of Gulf nations, has been launching airstrikes against the rebels since March, part of an increasingly assertive military policy by both the Saudis and the UAE in the region.
Before Saudi Arabia and the UAE confirmed their casualties in the attack, coalition countries had avoided acknowledging that they had troops on the ground in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country. On Friday, Bahrain’s state news agency also reported that five of its soldiers were killed in Yemen operations, although it did not specify where or how.
Yemeni security officials have said that Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian and Jordanian military advisers are training hundreds of fighters at a military base in Aden. The Saudis also are supplying weapons and providing military advice in the fight for control of their southern neighbour.
The rebels and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, as well as southern separatists and local militias.
Officials from the Houthis media office confirmed they had fired a Soviet-era Tochka missile in Marib, which had been a staging ground for what pro-government described as an upcoming assault toward the Houthis’ northern strongholds.
Also Saturday, pro-government Yemen officials said Arab coalition forces in Marib received reinforcements in the form of troops and supplies from neighbouring Saudi Arabia. They said the troops were from Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and also included Saudi-trained Yemeni forces.
The coalition also has launched almost-continuous airstrikes in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa since the rebels’ Friday missile attack, demolishing at least one building, Sanaa residents said. Shock waves from the explosions caused several small buildings to collapse as well. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The airstrikes in the capital targeted weapons storage facilities and a police department in downtown Sanaa, which the rebels had turned into a military headquarters, independent security officials and witnesses said. The strikes knocked down a nearby house, killing four civilians and wounding three from the same family, they added. The Houthi-controlled Interior Ministry said 27 people have been killed by the intensified airstrikes since Friday.
Meanwhile in Jawf, a massive desert province north of Marib, hundreds of Saudi-trained Yemeni fighters and coalition troops have marched in and set up military encampments in the north-western al-Yetema crossing bordering Saudi Arabia, pro-government security officials and tribal leaders there said. The move came Thursday as part of the military plan to seize Jawf in order to advance on the neighbouring Sadaa, the heartland of the Houthis.
Sandwiched between rebel forces in Jawf and cities to the south like Bihan and Sirwah, which lie on supply routes with the rebel-held capital, the coalition forces in Marib are unable to advance north, independent security officials said. A breakout would require help from the reinforcements to Marib and Jawf, Yemeni analyst Mansour Haael said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.