Middle EastSaudi Arabia

Disgraced Saudi regime enlists women in military for first time

The Saudi Defense Ministry has allowed women to be enlisted in its armed forces for the first time in a bid to "empower women" as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Saudi Vision 2030" development plan.

The Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Thursday that the measure permitted women to serve from soldier ranks to “senior ranks” across its different military branches.

The kingdom first allowed women to join its security forces last year in areas related to “public security”, such as anti-narcotics, criminal investigations, customs and the prison system.

Saudi Arabia’s push to allow women to enlist in the military comes despite women being banned from driving and traveling without male permission in the country up until just a year ago.

The kingdom joins Israel in enlisting women in its armed forces in the region.

Bin Salman has sought to portray an increasingly liberal image of the country as part of the 2030 initiative, pledging to make the kingdom more “open” and eradicate “extremism” since his ascent to power.

The announced recruitment of women in the country’s armed forces, however, comes as the Saudi military is marred in a quagmire in Yemen and relies on foreign mercenaries to fight on behalf of the kingdom.

Last week, nearly 2000 Saudi-led mercenaries surrendered to Yemeni forces following a major retaliatory operation led by the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement in the north of the country.

Another 200 Saudi-led forces were killed in the retaliatory operation.

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Aside from depending on mercenary forces in its war on Yemen, Riyadh has also historically relied on the deployment of American troops in the region in a bid to ensure the regime’s security.

Following a highly successful drone Yemeni drone attack on major Saudi oil installations last month, the US pledged to send troops to Saudi Arabia bolster Riyadh’s air defenses.  

Iran has repeatedly slammed Saudi Arabia’s role in hastening the deployment of foreign forces in the region, expressing concern that foreign troops will only heighten regional tensions.

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US, UK lead in Saudi arms imports

On Thursday, British daily The Guardiansaid Saudi Arabia has become the world’s biggest weapons importer since entering the Yemen war in 2015.

In 2018 alone the kingdom spent nearly $70 billion on arms, almost 9% of its GDP, it added. 

“The US is by far the biggest supplier, with about 70% of the market between 2014 and 2018, with the UK the second biggest, accounting for about a tenth of total Saudi purchases,” it said. 

The newspaper cited a study of 27 attacks involving the deaths of Yemeni civilians published by Stanford Law School in March, saying 25 involved the use of a US weapon while UK weapons were used in five cases.

The weapon dropped on a school bus killing 40 children in August 2018 was a US-made precision-guided Paveway bomb.

According to the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), nearly 91,000 Yemenis have been killed as a result of the Saudi-led campaign.

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