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UAE, Bahrain lose 27 troops on black day for Yemen coalition

Abu Dhabi: The UAE said 22 of its troops were killed in Yemen and Bahrain said it lost five soldiers today, the deadliest day for a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemeni Shiite rebels.

The Yemeni government said an “accidential explosion” at an arms depot at a military base in the eastern province of Marib killed the 22 Emiratis, but the rebels said their fighters launched a rocket attack that caused the blast.

Coalition ally Bahrain said five of its soldiers were killed in southern Saudi Arabia where they had been posted to help defend the border with war-wracked Yemen. It did not give a precise location.

However, Yemen’s exiled presidency said the Bahrainis died in the same blast that killed the Emirati forces.

The Arab coalition led by Riyadh has since March battled Iran-backed Huthi rebels to restore the rule of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, exiled in Riyadh.

Around 60 people, mainly military personnel, have died in cross-border rebel attacks in the south of the Saudi kingdom since the coalition began air strikes on the Huthis and their allies.

The campaign was launched as the Huthis advanced on the southern port city of Aden, after having taken control of the capital Sanaa without resistance in September 2014.

The United Arab Emirates armed forces, in a statement carried by state news agency WAM, did not disclose the circumstances of what was its highest casualty toll of the six-month-old air war.

The Emirati army had previously announced at least eight deaths in Yemen among its ranks.

A total of 33 Yemeni soldiers and coalition forces were killed and dozens of people were wounded in the blast at the base in Safer, 250 kilometres (150 miles) from Sanaa, the pro-Hadi army command said.

A thick plume of black smoke was still billowing from the base several hours later.

Friday’s heavy coalition losses came as Saudi King Salman was in Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama at which Yemen figured high on the agenda.

More than 4,500 people have been killed in Yemen’s conflict, including hundreds of children, according to figures from the United Nations which has warned that the impoverished country is on the brink of famine.

According to military sources, the coalition sent reinforcements to the Safer base this week, including tanks, armoured vehicles, troop carriers, rocket launchers and Apache helicopters.

The extra military hardware and troop reinforcements aim to boost “the counter-offensive launched by loyalist forces and the coalition to advance on Sanaa”, one military official in Yemen said, asking not to be named.

The Huthis, meanwhile, said their forces had killed “dozens of officers and soldiers of the mercenaries in the Saudi aggression” when they fired a Tochka ballistic missile at the Safer camp.