France supplied images for Saudi strikes in Yemen: report

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

France supplied Saudi Arabia with satellite images that allowed its forces to strike at insurgents in Yemen in 2009, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Paris began supplying the data following a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Riyadh in November 2009, the Post said, citing unnamed Saudi officials.

At the time, Saudi Arabia was fighting a war against Shiite Huthi rebels on its border with Yemen.

The Huthi land-grab sparked the biggest mobilization of the Saudi military since the 1990-91 Gulf war.

At first, thousands of desert-trained Saudis backed by heavy artillery was outmatched by the guerrilla tactics of the Huthis, who are more familiar with the craggy peaks and pocket valleys along the border.

Saudi officials asked Washington for satellite images to strike the rebels while minimizing civilian casualties, but US officials refused, fearing it could violate the rules of war by getting involved in a border dispute.

France, fearing mass casualties from inaccurate bombing, agreed to help.

When Sarkozy visited Riyadh on November 17 "he was ready to open the new intelligence liaison channel.

"A Saudi official recalls that by the first night of Sarkozy's visit, detailed pictures of the Yemeni battle space began to move electronically to the Saudis," the Post reported.

Using the satellite intelligence, the Saudis were able to track the rebels. "Saudi warplanes then attacked with devastating effectiveness," the Post said, adding that within weeks the Huthis were requesting a truce, "and by February this chapter of the border war was over."

"The French were extremely helpful" and their assistance "was a key reason we were able to force the Huthis to capitulate," an unnamed Saudi official told the Post.

The Saudis now want their own satellite capability and will soon request bids from Western companies for such a system, the Post said.

© 2010 AFP

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