Viewing cable 09RIYADH1687, SITREP ON SAUDI MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE
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|09RIYADH1687||2009-12-30 15:03||2010-12-07 21:09||SECRET//NOFORN||Embassy Riyadh|
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 RIYADH 001687 NOFORN SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/30/2019 TAGS: MASS MOPS PREL SA YM SUBJECT: SITREP ON SAUDI MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE HOUTHIS, DECEMBER 30, 2009 REF: A. SANAA 2117 ¶B. SANAA 2279 ¶C. RIYADH 1558 ¶D. RIYADH 1570 ¶E. RIYADH 1547 ¶F. RIYADH 1621 ¶G. RIYADH 1633 RIYADH 00001687 001.2 OF 002 Classified By: Amb. James B. Smith for reasons 1.4 (A), (B) AND (D) SUMMARY ------- ¶1. (C) While there is no open diplomacy being conducted, it appears the Saudis and the Houthis may be seeking to disengage from their fighting. Prince Khalid's announcement on December 23 that major military operations had ended was followed by a Houthi statement that offered withdrawal from all positions on the border in return for a cessation of Saudi attacks. Saudi Land Forces have reportedly ceased offensive activities, although significant Saudi air strikes and artillery shelling have continued. It may be that the Saudis are now starting to turn the fight over to Yemeni government forces; Yemeni military sources reported today that they launched several attacks on Houthi positions on December 28 (Reuters, 12/29). End summary. SHRINKING MEDIA COVERAGE ------------------------ ¶2. (C) Reporting in national Saudi media about the Houthi fighting has decreased substantially in recent days, with news about Yemen focusing mostly on the attacks against Al-Qaida targets. Saudi media reports from the battlefront say that the Saudi military continues "clearing operations" and air strikes while insisting that these operations have not and will not cross into Yemeni territory. Houthi-sourced reports claim daily air attacks by Saudi and U.S. aircraft. ¶3. (C) After Prince Khalid's 12/23 announcement of Saudi casualties and his 48-hour ultimatum for the Houthis to withdraw from Al-Jabri, the Houthis released an official statement to Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Muhammad Abd-al-Salam, official spokesman for the Houthis, said: "There is no objection to our withdrawal from the positions in Saudi Arabia on the condition that the Saudis stop the aggression and not allow the use of their territories against us. ... The crux of the problem with the Saudi regime is not the territory or the border but because we faced Yemeni aggression from its territories." ¶4. (C) This possible olive branch offered by the Houthis was apparently not accepted by the Saudis, as the next day the Saudi newspaper Al-Yawm reported that Saudi tanks, heavy artillery and planes "pounded the stronghold of the infiltrators fortified in Al-Jabri inflicting heavy losses including the deaths of 340 infiltrators and the destruction of the deserted houses where the enemies were taking refuge." The actual number of Houthi deaths has not been confirmed, but both Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan reported on 12/28 that the village of Al-Jabri was recaptured by Saudi forces. For their part, the Houthis say there were 31 air strikes on Al-Jabri. PRINCE KHALID'S REPUTATION: ANOTHER CASUALTY OF THE WAR? ---------------------------- ¶5. (C) Embassy contacts in the Saudi Ministry of Defense suggest that the Saudi Land Forces have largely ended offensive actions since Dec, 23 when Prince Khalid declared victory and an end to the main Saudi military campaign. Prince Khalid's decision to stop ground operations probably means that the Saudi military has been able to clear the border area of Houthi insurgents. ¶6. (S/NF) We have also heard that Prince Khalid was pressed to stand down the ground forces because of King Abdullah's growing ire over three particular issues: 1) why it has taken so long to expel the ragtag Houthi fighters, 2) how there RIYADH 00001687 002.2 OF 002 could be so many Saudi casualties, and 3) why the Saudi military has not proven more capable, given the billions invested in modernization over recent decades. Some military officers have speculated that Prince Khalid may have been removed from his position by the King if not for the return and protection of his father Prince Sultan. At minimum, within the Saudi leadership Prince Khalid's reputation as a military leader appears to have been damaged, perhaps ruling him out as an eventual successor to his father as Defense Minister. COMMENT - FINGER-POINTING TIME APPROACHES ----------------------------------------- ¶7. (C) For the last two months, the Saudi military has employed massively disproportionate force in its effort to repel and clear the lightly armed Houthi guerillas from the border area. Day and night aerial bombardment and artillery shelling have been the main instruments of what is increasingly regarded within the Saudi military as an embarrassingly long campaign that was poorly planned and executed that brought unexpectedly high Saudi casualties (exact number not known - officially 73 deaths), many apparently from friendly fire. Nonetheless, the conflict has been carefully spun as a heroic and successful struggle to protect Saudi sovereignty. ¶8. (C) During the campaign, the Saudi military turned to the U.S. for emergency provision of munitions, imagery and intelligence to assist them to operate with greater precision. The U.S. military responded with alacrity to the extent possible, primarily by flying in stocks of ammunition for small weapons and artillery. However, the great majority of Saudi requests remain bogged down in the FMS contacting process or in interagency reviews. Prince Khalid and several senior Saudi Air Force officers have complained that the U.S. has not rallied to support Saudi Arabia during its hour of greatest need. As the Saudi military services seek to divert blame for the poor management of the Houthi operations in the weeks ahead, it can be expected that such criticism of U.S. support will continue, if not sharpen. SMITH