Saudi envoy says Yemen air strikes 'very successful'

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Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen from a post close to the Saudi-Yemeni border, in southwestern Saudi Arabia, on April 13, 2015

Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen from a post close to the Saudi-Yemeni border, in southwestern Saudi Arabia, on April 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

Washington (AFP) - A Saudi-led air campaign against Huthi rebels in Yemen has been "very successful" and gone "beyond its goals," Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States said Wednesday.

In the past three weeks, the campaign "has been able to degrade and destroy much of the military infrastructure that Huthis and (former president Ali Abdullah) Saleh possess," said ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.

He told reporters in Washington that "we are also beginning to see cracks" in the Huthi and Saleh military ranks and "we see military commanders defecting back to the regular Yemeni military."

"We expect to see more and more of them as pressure intensifies," he said, adding "this operation will continue until objectives are achieved. There can be no half measures."

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab countries launched the air strikes on March 26, after the Iran-backed rebels seized the capital Sanaa late last year.

The Shiite rebels then advanced on the main southern city of Aden, where President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi had taken refuge, forcing him to flee to Riyadh.

The Huthis have allied with troops loyal to Saleh, who was forced from power in 2012 following a year of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

But Jubeir said deliveries of arms to the Huthis from Iran appeared to have stopped since the start of the intensive air strikes.

"We have control over the air and inspection of ships. We are not aware of Iranian shipments of weapons to the Huthis," he said.

And he also demanded that Iran stop interfering in Yemen, saying the two countries did not share a border.

"There is no reason for Iran to be involved with Yemen. There is no reason for Iran to be supporting one faction against the other," Jubeir said.

"The Iranians should be supporting all Yemenis. That's how we bring about stability and security and safety."

Local Yemeni defense committees backed by Saudi Arabia were also beginning to have success, and had managed to wrest back a large part of Aden as well as other parts of the country.

The coalition had been "careful in targeting military targets and minimizing civilian damages," Jubeir added.

Earlier, Egypt said it was considering holding "large-scale" military exercises with Saudi Arabia in a possible sign the air campaign may expand into a ground operation.

"It was decided to form a joint military committee to look into a large-scale strategic manuever on Saudi territory," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's office said late Tuesday.

Washington said it had seen the reports, reiterating it had remained in close contact with Riyadh since the start of the operation.

"We continue to support actions that assist Yemen's legitimate government, including military support, ‎to protect the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen," a State Department official told AFP.