RIYADH — Saudi Arabia is using air power and artillery to enforce a 10km-deep buffer zone inside Yemen, to keep Yemeni rebels away from its southwestern border, a Saudi government adviser said on Nov. 12. Saudi officials said heavy guns had pounded insurgent positions across the border to create what the Saudi media have called a "kill zone."
The adviser said the zone would be no place for civilians while the conflict raged. Any Yemenis caught crossing into Saudi Arabia would be detained to ensure no fighters were among them, and placed in camps. Saudi Arabia launched an offensive last week after rebels seized some of its territory on the mountainous border, which they said the Saudis had been allowing Yemeni troops to use to attack their positions.
Assistant Minister for Defence and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, said on Nov. 12 that the Zaidi Shi'ite rebels, known as ‘Houthis’ after their leaders' clan, had been driven from Saudi territory, and that the offensive would continue until they retreated well away from the border. The Saudis are on particularly high alert for any security threat as Muslim pilgrims flock to the kingdom for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca that begins on Nov. 25.
The Saudi government advisor said no Saudi troops were fighting inside Yemen, where the terrain was too mountainous to deploy tanks and artillery effectively.
"The orders are not to go physically into Yemeni territory," he said. "We don't want to get bogged down there or inflame any local sensitivities, if there are any, against us." He added that Saudi ships had begun patrolling the coast off northern Yemen with air support to prevent any weapons or other supplies reaching the insurgents by sea, in what would be a rare unilateral operation by the Saudi navy.
Yemen said last month it had seized a ship carrying weapons destined for the rebels and detained five Iranian crew members, a report dismissed by the Iranian state media as a fabrication. Saudi Arabia fears Al-Qaeda militants are exploiting the instability in Yemen, an impoverished country also grappling with separatist unrest in the south, to establish a stronger base for their operations in the region.