Air strikes in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia will continue until Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who left the country on Thursday, is able to rule, a Saudi military spokesman said on Sunday.
Riyadh announced early on Thursday that it and nine other Sunni Muslim countries had commenced air strikes against the Shi’ite Houthi militia, who are allied to the kingdom’s main regional foe Iran. Iran, which denies helping the Houthis, has strongly condemned the offensive.
“We will set the conditions necessary to allow the president and his government to run the country,” said Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, spokesman for the coalition.
“The Yemeni army was almost dismantled (by internal fractures after a 2011 uprising) … one of the conditions is for them to take over. We will continue to attack the militias, we will keep them under pressure, until the conditions become very favourable for the army to take over,” he said.
Speaking to a small group of reporters after a regular media briefing in Riyadh, Asseri said the strikes had succeeded in stopping the Houthi advance on Aden and in putting pressure on the group across the country.
“We feel that day by day they lose … we continue to put the pressure on them to stop them … We believe the situation around Aden will be better and better, day by day,” he said.
Fighters loyal to Hadi clashed with Houthi forces on Sunday in the suburbs of the port city, the absent leader’s last major foothold in Yemen.
Strikes on Saturday night had targeted former Yemeni airforce planes the Houthis had moved from the national capital Sanaa to the al-Rubayi airbase, Asseri said. The base is located west of the central city of Taiz.
He added that Iran had helped the Houthis maintain some of the few jets Yemen possessed, which were used a week ago to target Hadi’s headquarters in Aden. Very few were now left and they too would be destroyed, he said.
Asseri estimated there were between 25,000-30,000 regular Houthi fighters, but said numbers were far from stable. He said the Houthis paid their fighters $100 a day, financed by Iran, and that when the money dried up, they would lose many men.
Iran had also supplied the militia with anti-aircraft cannon and other ammunition and armaments, brought into the country on the 14 incoming flights a week that had arrived in Sanaa from Tehran over the past month, he said. Those flights have been halted by the Saudi-led campaign, Asseri said, echoing earlier comments by Yemen’s foreign minister.
Iran and the Houthis have both repeatedly denied that Tehran is supplying them with weapons, money or training.