Yemen’s Houthi movement has said it carried out an attack near the border with the southwestern Saudi region of Najran and captured “thousands” of enemy troops including several Saudi army officers but there was no immediate confirmation from the authorities in Saudi Arabia.
A spokesman for the Yemen-based rebels said in a statement on Saturday that three “enemy military brigades had fallen” in the attack, which he said was launched 72 hours earlier in the vicinity of Najran and was supported by the group’s drone, missile and air defence units.
Houthi-run Almasirah TV quoted the spokesman as saying they captured “thousands” of enemy troops, including many officers and soldiers of the Saudi army, as well as “hundreds of armoured vehicles”.
Reporting from Sanaa, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed al-Attab said the Houthis claimed to have carried out “sniper shooting and other tactics in order to further tighten their grip on the three military brigades” claimed to have been captured.
“The Houthi military spokesperson revealed that those who have been captured will be put in undisclosed areas in order to protect them from Saudi airstrikes,” he said.
“They are assuring the families of the prisoners of war that they will be kept in a secret place in order to keep them safe from any harm.”
The Houthis, who control the northern part of Yemen, have recently stepped up their drone and missile attacks across the southern border of Saudi Arabia.
The attack slashed Saudi Arabia’s crude oil output by half, accounting for about five percent of the world supply.
However, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and the UK said Iran was behind the attacks, ratcheting up already heightened tensions in the region.
Nabeel Khoury, the former deputy chief of the US mission to Yemen, told Al Jazeera the Saudi-led coalition forces have repeatedly deployed troops across their southern border, posing a constant threat to the “Houthi heartland”.
The Houthi offensive appears to be “an attempt to take the military threat off of themselves”, he said.
On September 20, Houthi officials that they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations.
“Militarily they [the Houthis] have close to 100,000 battle hardened soldiers, and they have demonstrated their power elsewhere,” he added.
Five years of fighting
The war in Yemen broke out in 2014 with an offensive by the Houthis against the Yemeni government.
The Saudi-led coalition, backed by Western powers, intervened in the civil war in March 2015.
The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN said both the Houthis and the opposing coalition may be guilty of war crimes.