ADEN (Reuters) - Houthi forces backed by allied army units attacked a big air base about 60 km (37 miles) north of Aden on Wednesday, triggering heavy fighting with defenders loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, security sources and residents said.
The fighting at the al-Anad facility was also reported by media affiliated with the Iranian-backed Houthi movement, which has taken over much of the north of the country in recent months and contests U.S.-allied Hadi's legitimacy as head of state.
The Houthis' al-Masira television station later said the Houthis had captured the base, but there was no independent confirmation of that report.
The fighting suggests the Houthis are making steady progress in a push south towards Aden seen by many Yemenis as an attempt to unseat Hadi, who is based in the city and seen by the Shi'ite Muslim group as a stooge of Gulf Arabs and the West.
Al-Anad, held by Hadi's forces up until now in the country's worsening conflict, is believed to house a number of military aircraft that Hadi could call on in defense of Aden, but its fall to the Houthis would deprive him of their use.
The base has also housed an intelligence post for monitoring the Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda, or AQAP, that is normally manned in part by U.S. personnel.
But the United States last week evacuated its remaining personnel from Yemen, including about 100 special operations forces, because of deteriorating security. The last major U.S. military contingent in Yemen had been stationed at al-Anad, according to U.S. national security sources.
Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef and Sami Aboudi, Writing by Noah Browning, Editing by William Maclean