RIYADH, Dec 30, (AFP): A Bahraini fighter jet taking part in the Saudi-led coalition battling rebel forces in Yemen crashed Wednesday in Saudi Arabia due to a “technical error,” the alliance said. The F-16 jet crashed in the kingdom’s southwestern Jazan region near the border with Yemen, the coalition said in a statement on the official SPA news agency. Bahrain’s military confirmed that the jet crashed “while carrying out its national duty in defending the southern borders” of Saudi Arabia.
The pilot was “saved and is in good health,” it said, adding that the plane’s wreckage had been found and that an investigation had been launched. The crash comes a day after Bahrain said that three of its soldiers had died “in an incident” along the Saudi border with Yemen. It did not say how or when they had died.
The rebel sabanews.net website said meanwhile that insurgents fired a “ballistic missile” early Wednesday on the southern Saudi port of Jizan, which they claimed “precisely hit its target.” But the coalition said that Saudi Arabia’s defence forces safely intercepted the missile, destroying the warhead as well as its launcher in Yemen according to a statement on SPA. The rebels have intensified rocket attacks across the Saudi border during the past week, prompting the coalition to threaten severe reprisals. The United Nations estimates that nearly 6,000 people have been killed in fighting across impoverished Yemen since March, roughly half of them civilians.
Months of UN-brokered mediation efforts have failed to bear fruit, with the latest round of peace talks earlier this month ending without solution. Rebels and government loyalists accused one another of repeatedly violating a week-long ceasefire designed to coincide with negotiations. Jihadist groups have exploited the chaos to make sweeping gains, and the UN has warned that 80 percent of Yemenis are on the brink of famine.
The Saudi coalition began bombing raids in March on Iran-backed Houthi rebels who had seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognised government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.
It has supported forces loyal to Hadi with air strikes, ground troops, and weaponry, in addition to training. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which play key roles in the coalition, have suffered the alliance’s heaviest losses. Eight Bahraini soldiers and one Qatari have also died. Sudan has deployed troops in Yemen while Kuwaiti media reported this week that the emirate has decided to send ground forces.
The Bahraini jet is the second coalition F-16 to crash after a Moroccan plane went down during a mission over Yemen in May. Its pilot was later found dead and his body was returned home. The coalition said that crash had been caused by a technical fault or human error, and it denied rebel claims that they downed the plane. Saudi has deployed Patriot missile batteries after more than 80 people, including civilians, have died on its southern front with Yemen since March.