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Mar 14, 2011 | 18:14 GMT

3 mins read

Saudi-Led GCC Forces Moving into Bahrain

Thomson Reuters
In a move sanctioned by the Bahraini monarchy, armed Saudi-led forces moved into Bahrain on March 14 to assist in providing security. The small island nation lies off the Saudi coast and is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 25-kilometer (16-mile) King Fahd Causeway. Officially, the force belongs to the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) joint Peninsula Shield Force, a coalition created by the GCC in the 1980s formed largely of Saudi troops but also including Kuwaiti, Qatari, UAE, Omani and Bahraini forces. The force, oriented toward external defense, has had a mixed history at best and has been plagued in the past by both political and operational challenges. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at least have reportedly contributed forces to the GCC formation that is now moving into Bahrain. But there may be other Saudi units with more emphasis on internal security functions moving into or available to reinforce efforts in the country. Pictures and video purportedly of the crossing have shown columns of trucks and lightly armored wheeled vehicles that appear consistent with an internal security role. One video has shown eight-by-eight armored vehicles used by the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which is closer and more loyal to the Saudi monarchy and has a heavier emphasis on regime and internal security. The deployment currently appears set to focus on infrastructure security, especially the financial installations that Shiite protesters aimed to block during protests March 13, rather than direct involvement in crowd and riot control in the streets. This will at the very least free up additional Bahraini forces to handle those responsibilities. But formations could later be retasked based on operational needs or could become enmeshed in street protests as they protect infrastructure. Iranian operatives within the protests could also target them directly in an attempt to provoke an incident. The bottom line is that Saudi Arabia has led outside military forces into Bahrain, a very small country with a population of only 1.2 million or so, of which the capital of Manama encompasses about a quarter. The entire country has about one-fifth the population of Cairo. While the Bahraini military and security forces are small, Saudi Arabia and its other GCC allies absolutely have the raw numbers to attempt to impose security in the country and have additional troops and resources to call upon if needed. And Saudi Arabia is no stranger to keeping a lid on domestic unrest and dissent. Though there are issues with the quality of manpower, Saudi internal security forces are well-funded and well-schooled in managing crowds and riots. Although there is still a possibility of additional violence, this appears to be an aggressive but viable move by the Bahrainis and Saudis to attempt to lock down the situation before it spirals out of control. It also is a move to which the Iranians do not appear to have good counters, though there are questions about the effects of the Saudi-led move on the cohesion and motivation of the Shiite opposition movements in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region.

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