SANAA, Yemen – Yemeni soldiers backed by warplanes and artillery are slowly advancing toward al-Qaida strongholds in the south of the country, fighting ongoing battles with militants that left 28 dead on Monday, military officials and the Ministry of Defense said.
Meanwhile, a political crisis appeared to be looming in the capital Sanaa after tanks, ammunition and other weapons were reported to have been looted from a military base, apparently by loyalists of the country's former president.
Warehouses in a barracks belonging to the well-equipped Republican Guards were stripped bare and arms transferred to the home village of ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and to another barracks, according to a member of a top military committee. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Many Yemenis believe that Saleh, who was forced to leave office earlier this year, is maneuvering to remain a power behind the scenes, and that through his loyalists he still controls units that defy the orders of his successor, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
For weeks, Saleh's son Ahmed who commands the Republican Guard has resisted calls to turn command of the barracks over to a new commander appointed by Hadi. Ahmed Saleh instead appointed his relative Tarek Mohammed to head the unit.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets over the past months demanding that Hadi speed up a purge of Saleh loyalists. A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution circulated last week threatens non-military sanctions against those trying to undermine Hadi's national unity government.
In the south, meanwhile, the Yemeni military carried on its offensive against the southern town of Jaar, held by al-Qaida since last year. Warplanes bombed areas to the north and the west of Jaar, leaving 16 al-Qaida militants dead, military officials said. They said that the army aims to take a hilltop factory overlooking the town.
A Defense Ministry statement said the army, supported by tribal gunmen, seized Monday the town of Ahwar which is close to the al-Qaida-held coastal town of Shaqra.
A total of 12 military troops were killed, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.