Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saudis Battling Rebels Along Yemeni Border

For the past several days Saudi Arabia has engaged in a series of fierce clashes along their southern border with Yemen.

That the Saudi military is actually fighting somebody could be news in itself - an apocryphal story from the first Gulf War was that if Saddam Hussein ever invaded Saudi Arabia, US forces were ordered not to fire at the first troops they saw coming from the border since those would be the Saudis abandoning their posts. This time, the Saudis have taken the offensive against Yemeni rebels from the Zaidi Shiite sect. Yemen's government has accused the Zaidis of trying to overthrow them to restore a religious imamate that overthrew an earlier Yemeni elected government back in 1962, sparking a civil war in the process.

The Yemeni government has fought the rebels for the past five years along the rugged border with Saudi Arabia. Recent cross-border raids by the Zaidis prompted the Saudis to act. The Saudi military has used both aircraft and artillery in a series of intense strikes against the rebels, which began on Tuesday. Details on casualties and even where the fighting is exactly occurring are sketchy - the rebels say the Saudis have attacked inside Yemen, while the Saudis say the military strikes have been limited to their side of the border.

In either case though the Saudis have the support of the Yemeni government, which supports their actions against the rebels. And looming large over the whole situation is Al-Qaeda. Twice in the past three months, Saudi Arabia claims to have foiled terror attacks by a Yemen-based Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (or AQAP). According to analysts, the Yemeni government's battle against the Zaidi rebels has left them with little ability or initiative to fight groups like AQAP. In turn, veteran jihadis from Iraq and Afghanistan are said to be moving to Yemen, which along with the largely lawless Somalia, are being viewed by Al-Qaeda as the most likely places to establish a new base of operations.
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