Saudi Arabia Changes Government Up, Switching Top Military Leader Amid Yemen War Struggle
Saudi Arabia’s top monarch has shaken up his government, switching out a number of high-level posts in a royal decree that switched out the kingdom’s top general. The changes occur amid a three-year-war with Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebels in Yemen.
Saudi Arabi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued Monday a decree swapping out officials in a number of positions, especially in his defense ministry. General Abdulrahman al-Banyan, previously chief of the joint staff of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces, was appointed to be an adviser to the royal court, Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya reported. He was set to be replaced by Lieutenant General Fahd bin Turki, formerly in charge of the country’s ground forces.
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The decree also retired Saudi air force commander Mohammed al-Otaibi, swapping him out for General Fayyadh al-Ruwaili, appointed Khaled al-Bayari as assistant secretary of defense for executive affairs and affected other regional positions.
Defense Secretary James Mattis (C-R) is greeted by Saudi Armed Forces Chief of Joint Staff General Abdulrahman al-Banyan (C-L) upon his arrival at the Riyadh Air Base, April 18, 2017. Banyan has been switched to royal court adviser after a Saudi royal decree shook up the government. JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia has occasionally shaken up its government and this was the first time it has done so since a sweeping anti-corruption purge saw the arrest of dozens of princes and other officials last November. The campaign was headed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and was widely seen as a bid to consolidate power for the rising millennial monarch.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman has also served as first deputy prime minister since his ascension to being next-in-line for the throne last June and as minister of defense since January 2015. Around this same time, an insurgency by Yemeni Zaidi Shiite Muslim movement Ansar Allah—also known as the Houthis—forced Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, an ally of Saudi Arabia, out of the capital of Sanaa, effectively taking over the country.
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia gathered a coalition of mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states to launch a war against Ansar Allah—which they saw as a pro-Iran proxy—and supporters of longtime Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to resign in 2012 amid massive protests. Despite spending billions of dollars and receiving Western backing, Saudi Arabia and its allies have failed to help the forces of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government retake Sanaa.
A map shows areas of control in Yemen as of February 19, 2018. In addition to fighting Ansar Allah, pro-Saudi coalition forces have encountered insurgencies by southern separatists backed by the U.A.E. and jihadi groups Al-Qaeda and ISIS. RiskIntelligence/Reuters
While the Ansar Allah coalition saw its own difficulties after Saleh attempted to reconcile with Saudi Arabia and was killed shortly after in December, Saudi Arabia has also recently been pitted against an ally. Last month, southern Yemeni separatist fighters backed by the United Arab Emirates took over parts of Aden, the capital of Hadi’s exiled government, in an attempt to revive the sovereign South Yemen, which existed independently from 1967 to 1990.
The unrest has also opened the door for jihadi insurgencies by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), which have claimed casualties against both sides of the civil war, as well as civilians. On Saturday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of suicide car blasts and gunmen that killed at least a dozen in an attack on a counterterrorism center in Aden.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.