RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi King Salman has sacked the military chief of staff and a host of other top commanders, state media said on Monday (Feb 26), in a major shake-up of the defence establishment.
The monarch replaced the heads of the ground forces and air defences, as well as civilian officials including several deputy ministers, in a series of late-night royal decrees.
No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul, but it comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues military reform and a bloody campaign against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels nears the end of its third year.
“Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, Chief of Staff,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced, adding that Fayyad al-Ruwaili had been appointed as his replacement.
Al-Bunyan was retired after he inaugurated an arms exhibition this week in Riyadh by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defence company, which has drawn several global defence firms.
“These Saudi royal decrees appear to be part of the kingdom’s national defence strategy,” Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at the consultancy Gulf States Analytics, told AFP.
“A military transformation is under way in Saudi Arabia. The changes come on the heels of the SAMI exhibition, which is a critical part of the Prince Mohammed’s reform plan to create an indigenous defence programme.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne and the son of the monarch, is the country's defence minister and has been consolidating his grip on power in recent months.
The changes come in the midst of an ever-worsening conflict in Yemen.
A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government has been fighting the Huthis since 2015 in a conflict that has led to what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
More than 9,200 people have been killed in the conflict and another nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera amid deteriorating sanitation conditions, according to the World Health Organization.
Separately, a series of civil appointments were announced in other decrees late Monday.
In an unprecedented announcement, a Saudi woman, Tamadar Bint Yousef al-Ramah was appointed the deputy minister of labour and social development.
And Prince Turki bin Talal the brother of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, was appointed deputy governor of the southern Assir Province.
Prince Al-Waleed, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was among princes, ministers and tycoons detained in Riyadh's luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in an unprecedented crackdown on what the government called elite corruption.
The Ritz-Carlton reopened for business on February 11, more than three months after becoming a gilded prison for Saudi elites.