As Yemen's military, backed by U.S. Special Forces and the CIA, drive al-Qaida forces out of their southern strongholds, Saudi Arabia's intelligence agents, old hands at operating in Yemen, are playing a vital clandestine role.
SANAA, Yemen, July 5 -- As Yemen's military, backed by U.S. Special Forces and the CIA, drive al-Qaida forces out of their southern strongholds, Saudi Arabia's intelligence agents, old hands at operating in Yemen, are playing a vital clandestine role.
Few outside Yemen appreciate the extent to which oil-rich Saudi Arabia has been able over the years to influence, even dominate, events in its troublesome and impoverished neighbor that lies at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
The kingdom's principal intelligence services, the General Security Service, the internal security agency run by the Interior Ministry, and the General Intelligence Presidency, the external spy service headed by Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, have been operating in Yemen for years through unrivalled networks.
But the GSS's counter-terrorism unit headed by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, son of the late interior minister, Crown Prince Nayef, who died in June, is the lead service in the battle against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the jihadist organization in Yemen.
"The Saudis have a special position in Yemen," observed Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"They can do what the Americans cannot do. They understand the culture and they provide the human intelligence, which is the crucial and dangerous part."
According to diplomatic sources, Saudi intelligence, with unlimited funds spread among sympathetic Yemeni clans like the Hashed and the al-Ahmar, runs a network of some 30,000 agents and informants in regions where AQAP operates.
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