RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, which has fought a costly war in Yemen for nearly two years, projects a drop in 2017 military spending, budget figures issued Thursday show.
A cabinet statement on the budget said defence spending would reach 191 billion riyals ($51 billion) in 2017 but gave no details. That is almost 11 per cent lower than the figure of roughly 214 billion riyals which Riyadh said it expected to spend in the 2016 budget year.
The figure released a year ago was the first time the national budget had reported defence spending. A Saudi-led coalition began air strikes over Yemen in March last year after Huthi rebels and their allies, troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, overran much of Yemen.
Riyadh feared the Huthis would take over all of Yemen and move it into the orbit of Shia Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. To push them back, the kingdom has used Apache helicopter gunships, and warplanes including F-15s that drop precision-guided bombs.
It has fired artillery, and launched US-supplied Patriot missiles to intercept Scuds fired at Saudi territory. Aside from the air crews, and the soldiers it sent into Yemen to assist local forces there, the kingdom deployed Border Guards, National Guard, and army troops to defend its southern border.
Even at the low end of estimates, Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen has cost billions of dollars, analysts estimate. But the exact amount remains confidential. The Saudi-led alliance has faced repeated allegations of killing civilians with its air strikes in Yemen.
Last week the United States blocked the transfer of precision-guided bomb kits to Saudi Arabia out of concern over “flaws” in coalition targeting, a senior US administration official said. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir dismissed such reports as “media propaganda”.
The kingdom has long been looking for a way out of the Yemen war, analysts have said. While other civil servants face a wage freeze announced in September, cabinet exempted front-line troops. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in April that Riyadh’s military outlays grew by 5.7 per cent last year to $87.2 billion — making it the world’s third-largest spender.