UAE warplane crashes in Yemen, two pilots killed

 Pro-Houthi tribesmen during a tribal gathering in Sana’’a, Yemen, in December. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
Pro-Houthi tribesmen during a tribal gathering in Sana’’a, Yemen, in December. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

Two Emirati pilots have been killed after their fighter jet crashed in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling rebels backed by Iran.

The Mirage aircraft crashed at dawn “due to a technical fault”, said a coalition statement published hours after the United Arab Emirates reported one of its jets missing without giving details.

It is the first known case of an Emirati jet from the coalition crashing since the campaign against the rebels began last March.

Coalition warplanes turned their attention towards Yemen’s second city, Aden – home to a growing jihadi presence – for the first time last week.

Security officials and witnesses in Aden told AFP that a jet had crashed into a nearby mountain on Monday as aircraft operated in the vicinity, after clashes erupted between Yemeni forces and jihadis.

Islamic State and al-Qaida have taken advantage of the conflict between insurgents and pro-government forces to reinforce their presence in the south, including in Aden.

A government official told AFP that a coalition jet had carried out an air raid against the home of a local Isis commander at dawn, killing the target’s 18-year-old son, near the plane crash site.

Apache helicopters were also taking part in the fighting on Monday, security officials said.

“We saw Apache helicopters fire rockets and open machine gun fire at al-Qaida militants” in the al-Mansoura district of Aden, one witness said.

Security sources estimate that about 300 heavily armed al-Qaida fighters are entrenched in al-Mansoura.

The UAE jet is the third coalition warplane to go down since last March. In December a Bahraini F-16 crashed in Saudi Arabia due to a “technical error”. The pilot was saved and the plane’s wreckage was found.

In May a Moroccan jet crashed in Yemen. Its pilot was later found dead and his body was returned home. The coalition said at the time that the crash had been caused by a technical fault or human error, and denied rebel claims that they had downed the plane.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which play key roles in the coalition, have suffered the alliance’s heaviest losses in Yemen, with dozens of soldiers killed.

In Yemen itself, more than 6,100 people have died, half of them civilians, since the coalition launched its campaign, according to the United Nations.

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