By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN (Reuters) - A battalion of Sudanese troops arrived in Yemen's southern port city of Aden on Saturday, military officials said, bolstering Saudi-led Arab forces trying to keep out the Iran-backed Houthis and curb the growing presence of Islamist militants.
Aden, a strategic port and shipping hub, became the seat of the Yemeni government earlier this year after the Houthis, a clan from northern Yemen, seized the capital Sanaa and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the south.
A military source in Aden said that 300 Sudanese soldiers and officers arrived by sea on Saturday. Their purpose was to "help maintain security for the city against the Houthis and Saleh," the source said, referring to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose supporters have sided with the Houthis.
Hadi escaped to Saudi Arabia as the Houthis, who follow the Zaydi branch of Shi'ite Islam, advanced towards Aden in March. Prime Minister Khaled Bahah returned from exile after anti-Houthi fighters, backed by the Arab coalition, drove the Houthis and their allies out of the city in July.
However, they have not managed to restore security there. Islamist militant suicide bombers killed 15 people in attacks on the Yemeni government's headquarters and Arab coalition outposts in Aden on Oct. 6.
"Our troops in Yemen are ready to do their military task under the command of the alliance military leadership," Sudanese army spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Alshami said. "Sudan is committed to restore legitimacy in Yemen."
The security situation in Aden has remained a concern as residents report that armed men, including Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda, roam the streets. On Saturday, unidentified gunmen shot dead a UAE national at a shop in Aden, according to a local security source. The UAE state news agency WAM reported that a coalition soldier had died but gave no further details.
The Arab coalition says its aim is to restore Hadi's government to power in Yemen. At least 5,400 people have died since it began an air offensive in March.
The Arab coalition spokesman confirmed the arrival of the Sudanese troops to Arab television channels. They will join contingents from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the ground.
Hadi supporters, backed by Arab forces, recently made some gains in the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait and in Marib, a province east of Sanaa and home to much of Yemen's oil wealth. But the Houthis remain in control of much of the country, despite almost daily air strikes.
At least 18 Houthi fighters and Saleh loyalists were killed in air strikes overnight on Taiz province, south of Sanaa, medics said. The ancient port of al-Mokha and the provincial capital were among the targets, they said.
On Saturday, local officials in Taiz province said coalition jets killed 30 fighters loyal to Hadi when they mistakenly bombed a military camp in the province of Taiz. [IDn:L8N12H0MP]
A Yemeni government spokesman on Sunday said the report had not been confirmed.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef in Aden and Khaled Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)