By David D. Kirkpatrick
From the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, it was Prince Mohammed’s war.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then 29 and in his third month as defense minister, was shown in official photographs surrounded by generals, poring over maps, inspecting a helicopter and even wearing a pilot’s headset while riding in the back of a military transport plane.
Four years later, the war is lodged in a stalemate and Prince Mohammed’s signature fight has become a quagmire, diplomats and analysts say. A steep pullout by his key ally, the United Arab Emirates, they say, raises questions about Saudi Arabia’s ability to lead the war on its own.
Emboldened by the hawkish comments of Trump administration officials, Prince Mohammed is now hoping Washington will help make up the difference with new American military support, according to diplomats with knowledge of the conversations.
But congressional opposition to the war makes that highly unlikely, leaving the prince with some potentially humbling choices.
“It hurts him because it injures his credibility as a successful leader,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute. His personal investment, she said, could motivate him to search for some partial accommodation he could label a victory.
“Not many people in Saudi Arabia feel this is a wise investment for the future,” she added.
The Saudis launched the campaign in 2015 to try to roll back a takeover by the Houthis, a Yemeni faction backed by Iran. The war has killed thousands of civilians and put more than 12 million people at risk of starvation but has failed to dislodge the Houthis from control of the capital and much of the country.
While the Saudis have fought almost entirely from the air, the Emiratis, seasoned by years of combat alongside the American military in Afghanistan and elsewhere, led virtually every successful ground advance. Behind the scenes, Emirati officers, weapons and money played an equally critical role in holding together a fractious alliance of mutually hostile Yemeni militias, which have already begun jostling to fill the power vacuum left by the Emiratis.
As a result, analysts said, the Emirati exit makes the prospect of a Saudi military victory even more remote.
You can read the full analysis at The New York Times here.