Counter-Terrorism: The Yemeni Border Is Burning

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November 13, 2009: Saudi Arabian troops and aircraft are now enforcing a ten kilometer deep "kill zone" on the Yemen side of their Yemen border. This is the first combat operation for Saudi forces since 1991 (during the liberation of Kuwait.) This is in support of a four month war between rebel Shia tribesmen and the Yemeni armed forces. Since November 5th, Saudi fighter bombers have flown over a hundred sorties against rebel targets just across the border. Hundreds of smart bombs and missiles have been used. Saudi artillery has fired hundreds of shells at the rebels, and Saudi helicopters and infantry now patrol portions of the 1458 kilometer Yemen border where the rebels are active. Saudi warships are patrolling the Yemeni Red Sea coast, just south of the Saudi border, to prevent any more Iranian ships from trying to deliver weapons. On October 26th, Yemeni patrol boats in the Red Sea, seized an Iranian ship, carrying weapons, apparently meant for the Yemeni rebels.

In October, rebel tribesmen began to gather, with their families, near the border, as the Yemeni forces overran the towns and villages the rebels called home. The Shia tribes have clans on both sides of the border, but are now being stopped from freely crossing. The Saudis have always had good, or at lease peaceful, relations with the Shia tribes on their side of the border. Both Yemen and Saudi Arabia see Iran as a major supporter of the rebels. Saudi al Qaeda members have fled to Yemen, where they have been caught planning new attacks, and sending people back into Saudi Arabia to carry out these attacks.

The Shia Islamic militants of northern Yemen want to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. In the last five years, several thousand have died in this on-and-off war between the Shia tribesmen and the Yemeni security forces. While Yemen is supposed to be the new headquarters of "Al Qaeda in Arabia" (Saudi Arabia no longer being safe for the terrorists), these Islamic terrorists have been trying to avoid getting involved. Meanwhile, other groups in the south of Yemen want to break away and form their own "Yemen." But so far, the government sees the Shia rebels in the north as the bigger threat. The dissident politicians in the south are waiting to see how the war with the Shia tribes plays out. There has been some gunfire from southern separatist groups, but nothing major. But many of the al Qaeda members are apparently eager to head back to Saudi Arabia, fearing that once the tribes are pacified, Islamic terrorists will be next on the target list.

 

 

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