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Middle East Saudis purge top military ranks as Yemen quagmire drags on

SAUDI King Salman sacked his military chief of staff and other top army officials today in a shake-up of the Defence Ministry.

General Abdulrahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan has been replaced in the top job by one-time air force boss General Fayyadh bin Hamid al-Rwaili, while the chiefs of the ground and air forces have also been ditched.

Khaled bin Hussain al-Biyari, CEO of mobile phone and internet service provider Saudi Telecom Co, becomes assistant defence minister in the upheaval, probably prompted by the Gulf kingdom’s inability to make headway in its war on Yemen.

In the almost three years since Operation Decisive Storm was unleashed on Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in bombing raids that have hit markets, hospitals and schools among other civilian targets.

Bombing water infrastructure has provoked the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with an estimated million cases by the end of last year. The World Health Organisation said this week the outbreak is likely to intensify this year.

A naval blockade preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the country has also caused widespread famine.

Nonetheless — and despite logistical support and arms provided by allies Britain and the United States — Saudi forces have failed to achieve their war aim of restoring ousted president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power and defeating the insurgency of the Houthi movement.

The Houthis retain control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the country’s territory and killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as a traitor in December when he renounced his alliance with them and sought to switch to the Saudi side. Houthi incursions into Saudi territory and missile attacks on the Saudi capital Riyadh have also proved humiliating.

The architect of the war, Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, is believed to be behind the purge of the top military officials, with US analyst Becca Wasser arguing that, as with November’s incarceration of senior royals and business figures in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel, the changes are a bid to consolidate his power before he ascends the throne.


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