Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has tasked a paramilitary tribal force with conducting an anticipated guerilla war in the "mountainous border region" in an apparent reference to the kingdom’s border with war-torn Yemen.
The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Monday that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who also serves as deputy prime minister and minister of interior, had issued a decree mandating the force with safeguarding the country’s southern border.
Prince Mohamed, the SPA reported, had mandated this force with "conducting guerrilla warfare in the mountainous border areas".
Members of the force, he said, had been delegated with authority "to make arrests, conduct inspections, and track and open fire [on infiltrators], according to legal procedure".
The crown prince’s decree also called for providing members of the tribal force with weapons and training them at Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Center for Mountain Warfare.
The decree did not specify the exact location in which these forces were expected to carry out their tasks, but the reference to the "mountainous border region" most likely means the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen, where a Saudi-led Arab coalition is fighting a bitter war with the Shia Houthi militant group.
Earlier Monday, Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Ministry announced the deployment of additional troops to Najran, a city in the kingdom’s southwest, to participate in the Saudi-led campaign -- now in its ninth month -- against the Houthis in Yemen.
Saudi under fire
Prince Mohamed’s decree also came immediately after a high-ranking Saudi military commander was killed while fighting the Houthis near Yemen’s city of Taiz.
According to the SPA, Col. Abdullah al-Sahyan, a Saudi Special Forces commander, was killed on Monday, along with a high-ranking military officer from the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Sahyan was reportedly the highest-ranking Saudi officer to be killed in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition began operations in March.
On the same day, Yemen’s Houthi-linked Al-Maseera television channel reported that Houthi militiamen had successfully carried out a missile attack on Jizan International Airport in Saudi Arabia’s western city of Jizan.
Anadolu Agency, however, has yet to independently verify the assertion.
The crown prince’s decree came only hours before a humanitarian truce was scheduled to come into effect on Tuesday to coincide with the launch of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva between a Yemeni government delegation and Houthi representatives.
In September of last year, the Houthis overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, before capturing additional parts of the country, forcing Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government to flee to Riyadh.
In March, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies began an extensive air campaign aimed at reversing Houthi military gains in Yemen and restoring Hadi’s embattled government.
Hadi has since returned to Yemen’s port city of Aden, which currently serves as the temporary seat of his government, while the Houthis remain in control of capital Sanaa.
Fighting, meanwhile, continues to rage in several parts of the country between the Houthis and their allies on one hand and Saudi-backed pro-Hadi forces on the other.
According to UN figures, some 5,700 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies began air and ground operations in Yemen almost nine months ago.
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