Forces Loyal to President Hadi Halt Houthi Push Towards Yemen's Aden

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ADEN, Yemen — Forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi drove Houthi fighters from two towns they had seized hours earlier on Tuesday, residents said, apparently checking an advance by the Shi'ite fighters towards his refuge in Aden.

But other Houthi units overnight entered the Red Sea port of al-Mukha, security officials and residents said, placing the Iranian-backed fighters a short drive from the Bab al-Mandeb strait, a sealane vital to oil shipments.

And in Taiz, soldiers and Houthi gunmen shot dead at least four people as demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the Houthi take-over of the central highland city, medical officials and witnesses said.

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The president is believed to be in a presidential compound in the southern city of Aden, one of the government’s remaining strongholds in Yemen, a Yemeni official told NBC News. "I’m very considered about his safety at this point," the official said.

Over the weekend the U.S. military evacuated its advisors and intelligence officials from Yemen as the situation became increasingly chaotic. A senior U.S. military official told NBC News that Hadi was considering leaving Yemen with the Americans.

"We thought until the last minute that he was going to be on one of the flights,” the military official said. Ultimately, however, it was communicated to the U.S. that Hadi had decided to remain in Yemen despite the risk.

"He decided to stick it out. Was that a good idea? It depends on what happens," the military official said.

Fighting has spread across Yemen since last September when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and advanced into Sunni Muslim areas, raising the prospect that regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia could be sucked into the conflict.

The Shadow War in Yemen

March 23, 201500:52


— Reuters and NBC News' Richard Engel