Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Saudi-led Arab coalition troops get toehold in Yemen
SANAA, Yemen — With helicopter gunships hovering overhead, at least 20 troops from a Saudi-led Arab coalition, including Yemeni expatriates, came ashore Sunday in the southern port city of Aden on what military officials called a “reconnaissance” mission, as fighting raged between Iranian-backed Shiite rebels and forces loyal to the nation’s exiled president.
The landing was the first of its kind since the start of the Saudi-led air campaign against the rebels and their allies — forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh — who have captured most of northern Yemen and marched on southern provinces.
The objective of the landing was not clear, but Yemeni military officials said the coalition troops would attempt to better organize and train forces loyal to the country’s internationally recognized leader, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, as well as identify an area that could serve as a “green zone” from which Hadi and his government could operate when they return to Yemen.
At the top of that list, said the officials, is the al-Bure- qah area west of Aden, which stretches for about 10 miles along the coast and is home to a major oil refinery and large fuel tanks.
The Western-backed Hadi fled Aden to neighboring Saudi Arabia in March.
Saudi military and security officials have repeatedly said a ground operation would follow the Saudi-led air campaign that began March 26, after the military capabilities of the rebels known as the Houthis and their allies had been sufficiently weakened.
On Sunday, the Yemeni officials said that streamlining the militiamen fighting the Houthis in Aden was a key step toward establishing a coherent force to which a coalition expedition in Aden could lend support.