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Viewing cable 09RIYADH1667, SITREP ON SAUDI MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RIYADH1667 2009-12-24 06:06 2010-12-07 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Riyadh
VZCZCXRO4869
OO RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR
DE RUEHRH #1667/01 3580644
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 240644Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2117
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO IMMEDIATE 2792
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS IMMEDIATE 5352
RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN IMMEDIATE 0398
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH IMMEDIATE 0506
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUMICEA/USCINCCENT INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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. 

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. 

RIYADH 00001667 003.2 OF 003 



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