Saudi Deaths in Fight With Yemen Rebels Reach 113

The Saudi army has lost 113 troops since the kingdom launched a sweeping offensive against neighboring Yemen's Shiite rebels in early November, a military commander said in comments published Thursday.

The kingdom's well-funded but largely untested military joined the fray after Shiite rebels from Yemen crossed the border into Saudi Arabia on Nov. 5, killing two Saudi border guards.

The Al Riyadh newspaper quoted Maj. Gen. Ali Zaid al-Khawaji as saying the dead include a senior Saudi officer whose body was found with those of two soldiers after a battle last week to drive rebels out of a border village.

The latest toll is a significant jump from last week, when assistant defense minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan said the Saudis had 82 dead and 470 wounded.

The mounting toll underscores the ferocity of the fighting with the poorly armed Yemeni Hawthi rebels, who have been battling their own government since 2004 over neglect and discrimination.

The rebels have gained a reputation for being wily adversaries, taking full advantage of the rugged mountainous terrain of their homes in northern Yemen.

The Saudis have been relying on artillery and air power to defeat the rebels without risking manpower, but the casualties mostly come from mob-up operations in rebel stronghold villages. Saudi chief of staff Gen. Saleh ben Ali Al-Mohaya said the war "is close to a guerrilla war."

Al-Khawaji, the commander of the southern Saudi region, identified the dead officer as Lt. Col. Saeed Ma'tuq al-Omari from Saudi parachutist units and a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.

"There are field units searching for more bodies," al-Khawaji told the paper.

The world's largest oil supplier, Saudi Arabia has used its military only once before since the kingdom was established in 1932. Saudi troops played a token role in the U.S.-led effort to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, has been in the limelight since a Yemen-based wing of al-Qaida said it was behind a failed Dec. 25 plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner.