Counter-Terrorism: April 8, 2005


One of the most important counter-terrorism forces on the planet isnt one. Its the Saudi Arabian Border Guards, which are part of the Ministry of the Interior. They combine the duties of a border patrol, coast guard, customs police (like the "finance guards" in some European countries), and even fisheries police. 

They're armed as light troops, and although currently poorly trained and equipped, there's a program to upgrade their equipment and training, probably as part of the increased Saudi awareness of their vulnerability to Islamist terrorism. On paper total strength is supposed to be about 25,000, but apparently actual numbers are something like 18,000-20,000. They man something like 300-350 posts, bases, and other installations.

The Border Guard can call on a special tribal militia, which also belong to the National Guard, for support. These are real desert Arabs, descendants of the tribes that brought the House of Saud to power, and are ideal for patrolling the country's long desert frontiers.

When properly equipped and trained, the Border Guard and its tribal auxiliary would not only be much more effective at securing the country's frontiers, but could also be of value as coup insurance. The royal family already has the National Guard to help guard against a military, or any other, takeover attempt. But the Border Guards have a special importance because they control who, and what, gets into or out of the country. Since early 2003, when al Qaeda declared war on the Saudi royal family, the Border Guards have been the main force guarding the borders from terrorists trying to enter, or Saudis trying to leave to escape prosecution, or in order to commit terrorist acts in other countries. The Border Guards also know the smugglers and other illegal enterprises taking place across the border. Some of the Border Guards are dirty, but most know what is going on. This comes in handy if theres a real emergency. The king takes good care of the Border Guards, and can call on a few favors. This might involve catching someone who really needs to be caught, or coming to capital to help keep the king on the throne.

Before al Qaeda began its terrorism campaign within the kingdom two years ago, the Border Guards could be expected to cut a Jihadi (al Qaeda member) some slack, and let him pass. No more. Saudi Arabias borders are still vast, especially in the south, with Yemen, and the north, with Iraq. A determined line crosser can still get by the Border Guards. But if they really want to stop you, or get you, its not so easy. Those old tribal trackers know there way around the sandy outback better than anyone. Thus any terrorist with half a brain, and some money, will try a large bribe before resorting to playing tag in the desert with a bunch of Bedouin trackers. 

The tribal scouts also appreciate gadgets. GPS is much appreciated, as the least little navigation error out there can be fatal. Satellite telephones and those nifty little American UAVs make the Border Guards even more formidable, and the worst enemy imaginable for a terrorist trying to get international. 


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