Border security is among the major security challenges facing any state. This challenge centers around the question of how any state can secure its borders with neighboring states from illegal activities in the border area and illegal movements of human beings and goods across the border line. Various factors contribute to the complexity of border security problems: many borders are either “disputed” or “unsettled” in terms of demarcation or delineation; other problems are related to the geographical nature of the border land, or to the political difficulties existing between two neighboring states. The Saudi-Yemen border issue suffers from all these complexities, and more.
The signing of the border agreement between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah, in June 2000, was considered by many to be a milestone in Saudi-Yemen relations, raising expectations on both sides about finally settling territorial disputes and improving security cooperation. The September 11 terror attacks in the US, and the attack on a housing complex in Riyadh in May 2003 which was followed by other serious bombings, besides the attack on USS Cole and the French oil tanker in Yemen, put the security cooperation between US, Saudi Arabia and Yemen into stronger focus, and pushed the three states to collaborate on hard and soft security issues, mainly terrorism and border security.
In the years following the 9/11 attacks, Yemen received international assistance to fight terrorism. According to the US State Department, US security assistance to Yemen amounted to $11,749 million in 2005 and $10,204 million in 2006. The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) trained Yemeni soldiers and equipped the Yemeni counter terrorism unit. Yemen and Saudi Arabia began to cooperate closely. In June 2003, the Saudi and Yemeni governments underlined their cooperation by signing a security agreement to organize border authorities between the two neighboring countries.
Yet, the security forces in both countries have not been successful in preventing smugglers and militants from crossing the border. Frequent clashes between tribes and security forces have culminated repeatedly in a deterioration of the relationship between the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni governments. The escape of the 23 al Qaeda prisoners from a top security prison in Sana’a in February 2006 – two of them were later involved in the September 2006 terror attacks on oil facilities in Marib and Hadramaut – casts doubt on the effectiveness of counter terrorism efforts of the Yemeni government. Against this backdrop, the article will detail the problems challenging Saudi-Yemeni cooperation.
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