Saudi troops are paying for peace. The troops sent to reinforce the border lack combat experience, and are somewhat intimidated by the Shia rebel tribesmen who have been fighting Yemeni troops for six years. But while the Saudi soldiers may not move as confidently, they do fight. Four were killed this week, when Yemeni rebels attacked a border post. The rebels were repelled. The rebels no longer move around in large (up to 200 gunmen) numbers, because the Saudis will use their artillery or airpower to blast concentrations of hostile fighters. The Yemeni rebels have no defense for this. But the Saudi infantry are another matter. The Saudis are trying to keep the rebels out by heavily patrolling a ten kilometer (six mile) zone along the border. The Shia rebels have taken to ambushing the patrols, and this has made the Saudi troops more cautious and slow. In ten weeks of fighting, the Saudis have suffered nearly 400 casualties (including 82 dead and 21 missing). That's a lot for force with only 199,000 troops. It's actually the first combat for Saudi troops since 1990, but then the opposition was Iraqi soldiers. They fought, but not as effectively as the Shia rebel tribesmen. The Saudi patrols make it difficult for the rebels, or al Qaeda terrorists, to get across the border.
Saudi Arabia has over a hundred jet fighter-bombers, they have far fewer targets, for the Shia rebels across the border in Yemen have scattered, and are hard to find. The Yemeni army can go wherever it wants in the tribal areas of north Yemen, and are using that mobility to hunt down the rebels. The problem is that there are not a lot of enemy fighters. A few thousand rebel tribesmen, and a few hundred armed al Qaeda are the target, and it's an elusive one. Al Qaeda is cooperating by using their usual methods. This includes violent intolerance towards any Moslems who do not agree with them. Most Moslems do not, and that includes most Yemenis. Al Qaeda pushes a more strict form of Islam that most Yemenis are hostile to. In response, al Qaeda kills Moslems who oppose them, and this has caused many Yemenis to push back. This includes many of the tribesmen in the north and east. The Shia rebels have suffered thousands of casualties, many of them civilians. Al Qaeda is more spread out, and has thousands of supporters, in addition to the 400 or so hard core members, at least a third have already been killed, wounded or captured. Many tribes and clans back al Qaeda because of the hope the Islamic radicals will eliminate the corruption and disunity in the country. This is unlikely, as al Qaeda proposes to use force to compel obedience. The big danger here is not al Qaeda or the Shia rebels taking over the country, but a general breakdown of government control as more factions become more hostile to the government. Yemen, historically, was never very united. The concept of a united Yemen is a very recent one, and most Yemenis are not sure this is the way to go. Loyalty to tribe or clan is the ancient virtue here, while nationalism is seen as something of a radical, if not unnatural, act.
Yemen has called for billions of dollars a year of foreign aid, so that Yemen can climb out of the poverty that breeds rebellion and Islamic radicalism. But donors are wary of the corruption rampant in Yemen. It's this tendency of leaders to steal foreign aid (and use it to pay off key supporters and, well, get rich) that has hobbled economic growth. Yemeni leaders say they are cracking down on corruption, but they always say that.
January 17, 2010: Yemeni troops caught three armed al Qaeda men near the Saudi border. While most Yemeni al Qaeda are locals, there are dozens who are foreigners, and some of these are trying to get out of the country. Al Qaeda is trying to get a widespread rebellion going, and that is not working so far.
January 15, 2010: Yemeni troops found and bombed a group of Shia rebels believed to contain Qasim al Raymi, the senior military leader of the rebels. At least six rebels were killed in the strike. Tracking down these guys is difficult, and this is the fifth air strike against suspected Yemeni rebel leaders in the last few weeks. The U.S. has Predator UAVs and electronic eavesdropping aircraft over Yemen, helping with the search. But the Saudis and Yemenis use their own aircraft for the strikes. Al Raymi has been targeted before, and it's not certain that he got killed this time.