By Derek Bisaccio, @DerekBisaccio
The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of tanks and armored recovery vehicles (ARVs) to Saudi Arabia. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency made the announcement on August 9, saying that the U.S. Congress had been notified the day before.
According to the announcement, Riyadh had requested the sale of 153 M1A1/A2 tanks for conversion into 133 M1A2S ("Saudi") tanks and 20 battle damage replacements. Alongside this request were requests for M2 .50 caliber machine guns, 7.62mm M240 machine guns, M250 smoke grenade launchers, AN/PVS-7B night vision devices, and other vision-enhancing equipment. Saudi Arabia is also looking for 20 M88A1/A2 Hercules ARVs.
The sale, which has not yet been concluded, is estimated to be worth $1.15 billion. If concluded, "The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia's capability to meet current and future threats and provide greater security for its critical infrastructure."
The U.S. Congress has 30 days to block the sale, if it chooses to.
Saudi Arabia's desire for more armor and better support to its troops stems from its broader modernization efforts as well as its military engagements in the country's south. Buoyed by years of high oil prices, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a spending spree, acquiring large volumes of systems like tanks, armored vehicles, missile defenses, fighter aircraft, and helicopters. Riyadh's defense budget has fallen as oil prices collapsed over the last few years, but procurements continue.
Currently, Saudi Arabia is leading a multilateral military campaign called "Restoring Hope" in Yemen. The operation aims to defeat the militant group Ansar Allah, which controls the capital, Sana'a, after capturing it in September 2014.
As a result of Riyadh's involvement in Yemen, southern Saudi Arabia has come under attack from Ansar Allah's ballistic missiles, while Saudi border guards have been frequent targets for ambushes. Saudi vehicles have often been targeted by Ansar Allah, which possesses large amounts of anti-tank guided missiles.
A number of Saudi tanks have been destroyed or disabled, with some even being captured, as a result of Ansar Allah operations. The fact that Riyadh requested 20 tanks for battle damage compensation provides an indicator of the toll that Saudi armor has taken throughout the course of the intervention in Yemen.
Several rounds of peace talks between Ansar Allah and Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi have so far failed to produce a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, which has killed thousands. After U.N.-sponsored talks broke down on August 6, Saudi Arabia carried out a wave of airstrikes on Sana'a.
Alongside the airstrikes on Sana'a, pro-government forces have attempted to advance towards the capital. They claim to be less than 40 kilometers from the city.
"These clashes are ferocious and continuing," a journalist embedded with the pro-government forces told Gulf News on August 9.
Human rights groups have criticized the Saudi-led campaign, calling upon the U.N. General Assembly in June to suspend Saudi Arabia from the U.N. Human Rights Council over allegations of "gross and systematic violations of human rights." Riyadh has continually denied that it deliberately targets civilians.
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