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Cablegate: Sitrep On Saudi Military Operations Against The

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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 001667

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2019
TAGS: MASS MOPS PREL SA YM
SUBJECT: SITREP ON SAUDI MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE
HOUTHIS, DECEMBER 23, 2009

REF: A. SANAA 2117
B. RIYADH 1558
C. RIYADH 1570
D. RIYADH 1547
E. RIYADH 1621
F. RIYADH 1633

RIYADH 00001667 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: A/DCM Lisa Carle,
1.4 (A), (B) AND (D)

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) Assistant Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Sultan
announced in a new conference yesterday (Dec. 22) that Saudi
Arabia's main military operations in the Yemeni border area
had ceased, that the Saudi military had full control of the
border area, and that military activity was now focused on
expelling remaining intruders. His statement is the first
official indication that the fighting might be winding down;
senior Embassy contacts in the Saudi Ministry of Defense as
recently as yesterday were stressing the ongoing urgency of
resupplying aircraft munitions. Prince Khalid also gave the
first official accounting of Saudi casualties since early
November: 73 dead, 470 wounded, and 26 missing. End Summary.

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Saudi Arabia Declares Victory
--------------------------

2. (C) During a tour of the Saudi-Yemeni border area
yesterday Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, Assistant Minister of
Defense and Aviation, announced to local reporters that the
Saudi military was now in full control of the border area and
that its main operations had ended. "What we are doing now is
bringing things to normal," he said, and that Saudi forces
would remain in the area with a mission of removing any
remaining "infiltrators." Prince Khalid also provided the
first official accounting of Saudi casualties since early
November: 73 dead, 470 wounded, and 26 missing. The Embassy
has been hearing rumors circulating over the past two weeks
that King Abdullah was increasingly upset that the military
campaign had not been wrapped up. Thus political pressure
may have been a factor in the timing of Prince Khalid's
announcement, but given the gravity and urgency with which
the Saudis viewed the challenge from the Houthis, Prince
Khalid's announcement suggests that the Saudi leadership is
now convinced that sufficient punishment had been inflicted
upon the Houthis to have taught them a lesson and to put an
end to their border harrassments.

Is it Really Over?
--------------

3. (S/NF) The Embassy DAO was told by senior Saudi Air Force
officers on December 22 that Saudi fighter aircraft had
continued to launch attack against Houthi targets in recent
days, sustaining the high tempo that started in the second
week of November. Saudi television was airing footage as
recently as December 21 showing Saudi tanks and artillery
firing in the border area, and Saudi soldiers launching
mortars and firing machine guns. A digest of other key press
reports from recent days is below:

-- (U) Military Successes: Saudi media continue to report
victories, describing in general terms how Saudi forces were
&repelling attacks8 or &pursuing infiltrators and
inflicting heavy losses.8 The Dec. 21 Saudi Gazette
headline boasted of 30 infiltrators killed. Al-Sharq
al-Awsat quoted a military source on Dec. 21 saying that
Saudi forces successfully destroyed a series of caves that
the infiltrators were using to store weapons and ammunition,
but could comment no further than to say that combing
operations continue on the ground while F-15 and Apache
aircraft continue air raids.

-- (U) Religious Support for Saudi Forces: Saudi Press
Agency ) 12/18/09: The Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abulaziz
Al-Sheikh, addressed Saudi forces saying, &Mujahedeen
Brothers, I salute your courage ( and congratulate you on
your Jihad for the sake of Allah. You are facing a corrupt

RIYADH 00001667 002.2 OF 003


and astray enemy of deviant thoughts.8 The Mufti went on to
say that the actions of the armed forces are the highest
deeds of Islam. (Comment: This statement of support by the
KSA,s highest religious authority seeks to reinforce the
message that the truest form of jihad is fighting to defend
the nation, and to remind that those who seek to bring the
nation down are deviant in their thoughts. End Comment.)

-- (U) Border Security: Arab News Online ) 12/16/09:
Normalcy Restored at Border, The Saudi military announced
that 127,875 infiltrators and 2,206 smugglers have been
arrested over the past six months on the Saudi-Yemeni border.
&Saudi forces also seized a number of weapons and 14,000
rounds of ammunition. Forces foiled attempts to smuggle 30kg
of gunpowder and explosives, eight sticks of dynamite and
large quantities of narcotic substances in 2,140 cars.8
(COMMENT: The six month time period and large number of
&infiltrators8 arrested make these statistics appear more
closely related to routine border patrol operations than
directly with the fight against the Houthis. This
announcement seems intended to show strong Saudi control over
the border, rather than make a statement about fighting
infiltrators., End comment.)

-- (S/NF) Report from the Houthi Side: Al-Minbar
(pro-Houthi website) and other Houthi sources over the past
week continued to claim that U.S. and Saudi aircraft were
conducting airstrikes on innocent villages. Houthi sources
report 54 Yemeni deaths from a Dec. 20 Saudi air attack and
70 deaths from an attack on Dec. 13. These reports could not
be verified; Yemeni officials continue to deny that any Saudi
planes have strayed into Yemeni airspace. (Comment: a senior
Saudi Air Force officer confirmed to the Embassy DAO that
Saudi aircraft have been operating in northern Yemen with the
Yemeni government's approval and facilitation.)

(U) On Dec. 18, Al-Minbar claimed another successful Houthi
attack on a Saudi military post in Quwwa village &expelling
the Saudi Army and seizing its military equipment ,
communication and surveillance devices and military vehicles
that soldiers left behind.8 The statement on Al-Minbar went
on to justify the Houthi attack against the Saudi forces,
explaining &We do not aim to take control over any part of
the Saudi territories. However, we are forced to chase the
aggressor wherever it carries out attacks against us. This
comes in retaliation for its continuous aggression against
civilians in the northern governorates.8

Iran: Still the Bogeyman?
--------------------

4. (C) The tacit cease-fire in the Saudi-Iranian war of words
over the Yemen border war seems to be holding. The Embassy
saw unofficial reports on the internet earlier this week that
Iranian Parliament Speaker Larijani might visit Riyadh today
(The Embassy has not been able to confirm these reports.)
Nonetheless, senior Saudi military and civilian officials
seem to uniformly share the conviction that Iran's
machinations are the only plausible explanation for why the
Houthis would have engaged in a fight with the Saudis that
they were bound to lose. Saudi military officials also point
to the improved training and battle tactics of the Houthi,
their deep reserves of weaponry, and several large stores of
money discovered in Houthi areas as further compelling
evidence of Iran's active support.

What's Next
----------

5. (C) The days ahead should tell whether there is a
significant stand down in Saudi military operations. Our
assessment is that the Saudi Land Forces have largely
established secure positions along the troubled area of the
Saudi-Yemeni border and that their shooting engagements have
for the most part trailed off into patrolling and monitoring
operations. Saudi air operations to patrol the border and
strike Houthi targets near the border and into Yemen will
likely continue for days or perhaps weeks, until the Saudis
are comfortable that Yemeni government forces have the
capability to suppress any Houthi activity near the border.

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Lessons from the Battlefield
-----------------------

6. (C) The last 50 days of Saudi-Houthi fighting have
arguably been the most significant Saudi military engagements
since the tribal battles that Abdulaziz that fought to
establish the Saudi kingdom. The Houthi battles will be
intensively studied in the months ahead, including how they
revealed Saudi military shortcomings. The Saudi military,
particularly the Air Force, resorted to the use of enormous
firepower (despite low munitions inventories) that proved to
be inadequately precise and minimally effective against
fighters maneuvering and dug into rugged mountain terrain.
Among questions that merit attention will be to what extent
should the Saudi military restructure itself to respond to
such asymmetrical threats, why the Saudis responded to the
Houthi challenge as such an urgent existential threat, and
whether the perceived inability or unwillingness of the U.S.
to more rapidly provide emergency munitions resupply to the
Saudis in their perceived hour of need will ramifications for
our military to military partnership. These and related
issues will be the focus of forthcoming Embassy analyses.
SMITH

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