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Yemeni Military Offensive Targets Militant Leader

August 07, 2004|From Associated Press

SADAH, Yemen — Yemeni warplanes and artillery pounded mountain hide-outs of an anti-U.S. leader and his followers Friday in a major offensive aimed at ending a six-week conflict that has killed at least 500 people.

Yemen's army chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ali Khatami, said government troops had taken control of locations in the Jabal Maraan mountains, outside the northern town of Sadah, where followers of Hussein Badr Eddin Houti were holed up.

Houti, a Shiite Muslim, has wide religious and tribal backing in this impoverished country and has long opposed U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern affairs and Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. His fierce anti-U.S. positions -- spread through mosque speeches and demonstrations -- have caused problems for Yemen's government, which has turned to the United States for military training and assistance to safeguard its borders from infiltration by militants.

Khatami said some soldiers were killed or wounded in fierce fighting late Thursday and Friday, but the number of casualties was not immediately available.

"Pockets of resistance remain, and many militants have been taken prisoner while others have surrendered," Khatami said. "The battle will be wrapped up within 24 hours."

The government deployed more than 2,000 soldiers, backed by warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, to Sadah this week to end the conflict with Houti and his followers.

More than 500 soldiers and rebels have been killed since the conflict began June 21. The fighting started after security forces tried to arrest supporters of Houti in Sadah, about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Sana. Houti leads an armed group called the Believing Youth.

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