On Saturday a major attack was reportedly launched out of Yemen on two cities in Saud Arabia's south, Khamis Mushait and Najran, which utilized explosive-laden drones.
The swarm of drones entering the kingdom's airspace reportedly spanned multiple hours, according to regional reports, which cited up to 17 drones intercepted by Saudi anti-air defenses. "The interception operations were successful," the Saudi military said, noting that many were destroyed prior to entering Saudi airspace while still over Yemen.
"Saudi Arabia’s air defenses destroyed 17 Houthi drones launched toward the Kingdom’s southern region on Saturday," regional English language source Arab News details of the attacks. "A booby-trapped drone targeted Khamis Mushait early morning before seven more targeting the southern region were intercepted in Yemeni airspace during the afternoon."
"Khamis Mushait was again targeted by two drones in the evening," the report continued. "Another drone targeted Najran late evening before six more were shot down near midnight."
Arab Gulf leaders were unanimous in their condemnation of what they called Yemeni Houthi attempts at "systematically targeting civilians." The Saudis and their allies, including US officials, have long blamed Iran for supporting and supplying such Houthi operations.
Other regional sources cited what appeared a Houthi claim of responsibility for the drones attacks: "Earlier on Saturday, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels tweeted that a drone was launched in the morning toward King Khaled air base in Khamis Mushait," Israel's i24 news wrote.
Watch: The Arab Coalition releases footage of Saudi Arabia’s air defenses intercepting the explosive drones launched by the Houthis towards the southern Saudi region.https://t.co/BNAxj99mKy pic.twitter.com/uW6qnD7qYf— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) June 19, 2021
Despite largely falling out of headlines, the war in Yemen has continued to rage since its start in 2015 - though reportedly with less direct US involvement of late. The timing of this weekend's attack is interesting given The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported a major Biden administration reversal of a US Patriot missile systems build-up on Saudi soil, which had been put in place by Trump.
"The Pentagon is pulling approximately eight Patriot antimissile batteries from countries including Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to officials," the report details. "Another antimissile system known as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad system, is being withdrawn from Saudi Arabia, and jet fighter squadrons assigned to the region are being reduced, those officials said."
The WSJ report highlighted further that early this month the Saudi crown prince was informed of the reduction of equipment and personnel on Saudi soil in a phone call by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The prior Trump administration had begun sending tons of additional hardware there following the September 2019 drone and missile attack on the Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.
While it's unclear how favorably or otherwise Saudi crown prince MbS will look upon this new drawdown policy, what is clear is that Congressional hawks will point to the continued drone attacks on Saudi cities coming from Yemen as necessitating a strong US military presence in the kingdom.