Defense

NYT: US Special Forces Helping Saudis Fight Yemen Rebels

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Green Berets have reportedly been helping Saudi Arabia fight rebels along the country’s border with Yemen since late 2017, contradicting claims by senior U.S. military officials that Washington’s support for Riyadh is limited to aircraft refueling and intelligence sharing.

A team of about a dozen Special Forces commandos arrived on Saudi Arabia’s southern border in December, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing a “half-dozen” officials from the U.S. military, the Trump administration, and European and Arab nations.

The mission, which aims to help the Saudi military locate and destroy Houthi rebel weapons caches along the border, has not been previously disclosed.

According to TheNYT report, the Green Berets arrived a week after Houthi forces launched a ballistic missile at Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Following the attack, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a close Trump administration ally, renewed a request for Washington to send U.S. ground troops to help combat the Houthi threat.

The secret deployment of special forces troops to Saudi Arabia marks an escalation in U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war against the Iran-linked Houthi rebels. As recently as April, Pentagon officials had revealed that there are about 50 American military personnel deployed to Saudi Arabia to help mitigate the Houthi ballistic missile threat, but the extent of U.S. activity along the Saudi-Yemeni border remained unknown.

The U.S. military has been conducting a low intensity war inside Yemen since the George W. Bush administration, targeting the local al-Qaeda affiliate as part of the worldwide fight against Islamic terror groups. More recently, though, Washington has stepped up its support for Saudi Arabia’s fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen, a separate war that has raged for three years and caused one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises.

The Obama administration began assisting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in 2015, providing refueling for its fighter planes, as well as general intelligence and surveillance support. The assistance was intended to keep the U.S. military out of offensive operations against the Houthis, and was limited to helping the Saudis secure their southern border.

Under the Trump administration, which has sought closer ties to Saudi Arabia in order to counter Iran, the scope of U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition appears to have widened. Washington views Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen as a proxy conflict in a larger campaign to prevent Iran from gaining power in the Middle East, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear during a visit to Riyadh over the weekend.

“Iran destabilizes this entire region,” he said. “It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.”

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