For more than a month now, the vast Saudi Arabia desert has hosted forces from 20 allied nations, in an attempt to tackle terrorism by integrating the Saudi-led Islamic Coalition. The Saudis say that this is the largest military forces concentration since the 1991 Desert Storm that drove Iraq’s army out of Kuwait.
Reports from the local media quote the figures to be 350,000 troops.
The Saudi general refused to provide the exact figures to BBC’s reporter saying that they do not matter and that the turnout was actually lower than they expected.
Brigade Gen Ahmad al-Assir, chief military spokesman for Saudi Arabia, said that they are testing their airports, infrastructures and airbases so as to certify that they can handle such a coalition. He added that the Islamic Coalition forces have to start fighting guerilla insurgency from the conventional war.
Sense of encirclement
The participating countries have already been in war. For instance, Mali has the al-Qaeda under their nose and Pakistan having to deal with Taliban attacks.
Saudi Arabia is the most threatened country.
Its forces are on the Southern border fighting a war in Yemen while the air force is in the north warring with the Islamic State, a terror group that has already made several attacks within Saudi Arabia.
So question that Gen al-Assir had to answer is whether Saudi Arabia can take part in the Syria war while at the same time fight in Yemen.
In a response, the general says that it is exhausting both in terms of resources and the people. They have had their forces deployed in the north since 2014 while they are now being faced with the challenge of the South war.
Air strikes criticism
The twin campaign is happening at a time when the world’s second largest oil producer has quite some difficulties.
The price of oil has declined by over 60% causing an imbalance in the budget and also impacting on nation-wide hiring and contracts.
The rate at which the Yemen war is draining the Saudi coffers is alarming but still there is another factor in play that Riyadh leadership has to handle; there is an increased international pressure concerning its air strikes in Yemen. In the past 12 months of war, it is estimated that 6,000 people have been killed.
Close to half of the fatalities are blamed on air strikes but Saudis do not agree with this.
A year later, the Houthi have not sued for peace despite the huge firepower that has been deployed against it. The Saudi had expected that would happen.
The Saudis say they will not tolerate an armed militia on their borders, especially one supported by Iran.
General al-Assiri said that they require more time to bring about stability in Yemen explaining that the US stay for years in Afghanistan and left with only partial success.
The remaining question is: can Saudi Arabia handle wars simultaneously?