Saudi Arabia, allies launch air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters

Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes on Houthi Fighters in Yemen - Saudi Envoy

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Gulf region allies launched military operations including air strikes in Yemen on Thursday, officials said, to counter Iran-allied forces besieging the southern city of Aden where the U.S.-backed Yemeni president had taken refuge.

Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operations. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive in Yemen, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation of those figures from Riyadh. Al-Arabiya also said the United Arab Emirates was sending 30 warplanes to join the operation, along with 15 each from Bahrain and Kuwait, 10 from Qatar, six each from Jordan and Morocco and three from Sudan.

21 PHOTOS
Yemen Unrest
See Gallery
Saudi Arabia, allies launch air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters
Yemenis inspect a destroyed building in Aden's suburbs on June 24, 2015 after rebel forces and loyalist fighters were locked in fierce fighting. Warplanes from the Saudi-led Arab coalition have launched heavy raids against rebel positions in seven Yemeni provinces, according to witnesses and military sources. AFP PHOTO / SALEH AL-OBEIDI (Photo credit should read SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke billows from the Faj Attan Hill following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on an army arms depot, now under Huthi rebel control, on April 20, 2015, in Sanaa. The UN this week called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen one of the 'largest and most complex in the world'. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Shiite Houthis use anti-aircraft guns as the Saudi-led coalition strikes hit Houthi targets in Sanaa as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Shiite Houthis use anti-aircraft guns as the Saudi-led coalition strikes hit Houthi targets in Sanaa as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Pakistani woman (R), evacuated from Yemen, is greeted by relative on her arrival in Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad on March 30, 2015. Pakistan evacuated more than 500 of its citizens from Yemen by jumbo jet and sent a naval frigate to rescue others stranded in the war-torn country, officials said. AFP PHOTO / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Houthis attack Saudi-led coalition with anti-aircraft weapons after coalition carried out airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Houthis attack Saudi-led coalition with anti-aircraft weapons after coalition carried out airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 27: Smoke rises after Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 27: Smoke rises after Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 26: Yemeni men search for survivors in rubble of buildings after airstrikes of a 10-member coalition of Gulf countries in Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 26, 2015. Saudi Arabia has launched military operations in Yemen, as part of a coalition of over 10 countries in response to a direct request from the legitimate government of Yemen, against the Shiite Houthi group, which seized capital Sanaa and several provinces. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Yemeni man sits in the rubble of his house in the Yemeni capital on March 26, 2015 after Saudi air strikes against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport. Saudi Arabia launched a military operation overnight in Yemen by a regional coalition to defend the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teeters on the brink of civil war. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni civilians and security forces stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015, which killed at least 13 people. Saudi warplanes bombed Huthi rebels in Yemen, launching a military intervention by a 10-nation coalition to prevent the fall of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 22: A group of people hold banners as they march during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, at Gamal Abdul Nasser Street in Taizz, Yemen on March 22, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemenis drive in a car loaded with their belongings in the Yemeni capital as they move to a safer place on March 26, 2015 after Saudi air strikes against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport. Saudi Arabia launched a military operation overnight in Yemen by a regional coalition to defend the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teeters on the brink of civil war. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni police cadets loyal to the Huthi militia which controls Sanaa march during a group funeral for the victims of last week's multiple suicide bombings that targeted Huthi mosques in the Yemeni capital, on March 25, 2015. The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed responsibility for the March 20 attacks on two mosques in Sanaa that killed at least 142 people. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADEN, YEMEN - MARCH 25: Members of Yemen's General People's Committee deploy at mechanized unit in Aden, Yemen on March 25, 2015. (Photo by Wael Shaif Thabet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemeni police cadets loyal to the Huthi militia which controls Sanaa march during a group funeral for the victims of last week's multiple suicide bombings that targeted Huthi mosques in the Yemeni capital, on March 25, 2015. The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed responsibility for the March 20 attacks on two mosques in Sanaa that killed at least 142 people. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADEN, YEMEN - MARCH 24: A group of Yemeni men who want to return to military stage a demonstration outside the Military Command in Aden, Yemen on March 24, 2015. (Photo by Wail Shaif Thabet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TAIZZ, YEMEN - MARCH 23: Police intervene to the demonstrators during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, in Taizz, Yemen on March 23, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 22: A group of people hold banners as they march during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, at Gamal Abdul Nasser Street in Taizz, Yemen on March 22, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TAIZZ, YEMEN - MARCH 23: People hold flags and banners during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, in Taizz, Yemen on March 23, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Yemen's slide towards civil war has made it a crucial front in mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia's rivalry with Shi'ite Iran, which Riyadh accuses of stirring up sectarian strife throughout the region and in Yemen with its support for the Houthis.

The crisis now risks spiralling into a proxy war with Iran backing the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia and the other regional Sunni Muslim monarchies supporting Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

A widening Yemen conflict could also pose risks for global oil supplies, and Brent crude oil prices shot up nearly 6 percent soon after the operation began.

Unidentified warplanes had earlier launched air strikes on the main airport in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and its al Dulaimi military airbase, residents said.

A Reuters witness in the capital said four or five houses near Sanaa airport had been damage. Rescue workers put the death toll from the air strikes at 13, including a doctor who had been pulled from the rubble of a damaged clinic.

The air strikes came soon after Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, announced the operation.

"We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling," Jubeir told a news conference in Washington.

State media showed footage of Saudi jets taking off from a darkened airfield. It also showed Interior Minister Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman - two of the most powerful royals after King Salman - touring a command facility together.

PRESIDENT "IN HIGH SPIRITS"

Fighting has spread across the Arabian peninsula country since last September, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and advanced into Sunni Muslim areas, forcing Hadi out of the capital.

Jubeir said the assaults had been launched in response to a direct request by Hadi, who supported Washington's campaign of deadly drone strikes on a powerful Yemen-based al Qaeda branch.

The White House said in a statement late on Wednesday the United States supported the operation, led by the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and that President Barack Obama had authorized U.S. "logistical and intelligence support".

U.S. forces were not involved in direct military action in Yemen, a National Security Council spokeswoman said.

The Saudi-led strikes in Yemen coincided with an escalation of American involvement in Iraq, where U.S. planes carried out air strikes to support the drive to oust Islamic State militants from Tikrit.

Hadi has been holed up in Aden with loyalist forces since he fled Sanaa in February. Houthi rebels had overrun the airport in Aden on Wednesday, sparking concern about Hadi's whereabouts.

However, one of his aides said Hadi remains in his base in Aden and was "in high spirits" after the operation began. An Aden official later said Hadi loyalists had retaken the southern city's airport after heavy clashes.

A senior leader of Yemen's Houthi movement said the Saudi air strikes amounted to aggression against his country and warned they would set off a "wide war" in the region.

Houthi-run al-Masirah television reported that the Saudi-led air strikes had hit a residential neighbourhood north of Sanaa and caused dozens of casualties. It also urged medical personnel to report to hospitals in Sanaa immediately.

Al-Masirah footage showed the body of a girl and several of the wounded, including an unidentified man who wept as he said the air strikes had killed his son and destroyed his home.

It interviewed one witness who said: "We tell Saudi Arabia, don't you have enough with what's happening in Syria and Iraq. You want to do the same in Yemen? Why are you hitting Yemeni civilians, women and children."

No independent verification of any casualties was immediately possible.

Although the news sparked jitters in the oil market, Asian importers said they were not immediately worried about supply disruptions.

Most oil tankers from Arab producers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq have to pass Yemen's coastlines via the narrow Gulf of Aden in order to get through the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Europe.

The 40 km (25 mile)-wide strait between Yemen and Djibouti and the Strait of Hormuz between the Arabian peninsula and Iran are both considered chokepoints to global oil supplies by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"Just because Saudi and others conducted air strikes doesn't mean the oil market becomes suddenly tight," said Masaki Suematsu from brokerage Newedge Japan in Tokyo.

"But there will be repercussions ... If Saudi's oil facilities are attacked, the impact would be huge."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Phil Stewart, Patricia Zengerle, Yeganeh Torbati and Sandra Mahle in WASHINGTON, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Mohammed Mukhashaf in ADEN, Mohammed Ghobari and Noah Browning in DUBAI and Osamu Tsukimori in TOKYO; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11 PHOTOS
Yemen Mosque Attacks
See Gallery
Saudi Arabia, allies launch air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters
AL HUDAYDAH, YEMEN - FEBRUARY 18: Yemenis stage a protest against Shiite Houthi rebels' taking control of the government and occupying the Yemeni cities, on February 18, 2015 in Al Hudaydah, Yemen. (Photo by Abdu Muhammed Yahya Haydar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemeni students shout slogans during a protest after several suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group on March 22, 2015 outside the university in the capital Sanaa. Several suicide bombings killed 142 people in Sanaa on March 20, with the jihadists seeking to exploit the chaos gripping the country. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni students shout slogans during a protest after several suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group on March 22, 2015 outside the university in the capital Sanaa. Several suicide bombings killed 142 people in Sanaa on March 20, with the jihadists seeking to exploit the chaos gripping the country. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni students shout slogans during a protest after several suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group on March 22, 2015 outside the university in the capital Sanaa. Several suicide bombings killed 142 people in Sanaa on March 20, with the jihadists seeking to exploit the chaos gripping the country. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Yemeni man inspects the damage following a bomb explosion at the Badr mosque in southern Sanaa on March 20, 2015. Triple suicide bombings killed at least 55 people at mosques in the Yemeni capital attended by Shiite Huthi militiamen who have seized control of the city. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni armed men inspect the damage following a bomb explosion at the Badr mosque in southern Sanaa on March 20, 2015. Triple suicide bombings killed at least 55 people at mosques in the Yemeni capital attended by Shiite Huthi militiamen who have seized control of the city. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 20: Members of Houthi Ansarullah Movement put the bodies on a truck in front of the Al-Hashoush Mosque after a bombing attack in Al Jaraf region of Sana'a, Yemen on March 20, 2015. At least 55 people were killed on Friday in two bombings targeting Houthi mosques in Yemeni capital Sanaa, a medical source has said. The two blasts struck the Badr and Al-Hashoush mosques frequented by supporters of the Shiite Houthi militants. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 20: People inspect the crime scene at Al-Hashoush Mosque after a bombing attack in Al Jaraf region of Sana'a, Yemen on March 20, 2015. At least 55 people were killed on Friday in two bombings targeting Houthi mosques in Yemeni capital Sanaa, a medical source has said. The two blasts struck the Badr and Al-Hashoush mosques frequented by supporters of the Shiite Houthi militants. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemeni men inspect the damage following a bomb explosion at the Badr mosque in southern Sanaa on March 20, 2015. Triple suicide bombings killed at least 55 people at mosques in the Yemeni capital attended by Shiite Huthi militiamen who have seized control of the city. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A wounded Yemeni militiaman loyal to the Shiite Huthi militia, is detained and escorted by fighters loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, also known as the Popular Resistance Committees, following clashes Yemeni special forces opposed to the country's president in the area of the international airport in the southern city of Aden on March 19, 2015. Deadly clashes forced the closure of the international airport in Yemen's main southern city Aden, where the conflict-ridden country's leader fled after militia forces seized the capital. At least six people were killed and 20 wounded after fierce fighting broke out between supporters and opponents of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, security sources said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 22: Yemeni students hold the pictures of those who lost their lives in the mosque attacks, during a protest in front of Sanaa University on March 22, 2015, against the two mosque attacks after Friday prayer in Yemen killing 120 and injuring 200 others on March 21, 2015. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.