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UK reveals details of its support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen

A British minister has provided some information regarding the UK's participation in the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen
A Yemeni woman cries over the death of relatives in a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition (AFP)

LONDON - The UK government on Tuesday revealed some details of its support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which includes an undisclosed number of British personnel currently stationed at the Saudi-led coalition headquarters.  

Minister of State for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt said that over 150 Britons are working “to support Saudi Arabia" in response to a question from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas on the Yemeni conflict.

An undisclosed number of British “liaison personnel” are working at the “Saudi and coalition air and maritime headquarters,” according to Mordaunt’s statement.

The minister did not reveal details of the work being done at the coalition headquarters, but did say that “none of these personnel are participating directly in Saudi military operations”.

She added that another unspecified amount of Britons are based at the “Maritime Coalition Coordination Centre in Bahrain to help ease the flow of humanitarian aid into Yemen.”

Human rights activists, however, told Middle East Eye that the British government’s statement does not clearly state its role in the Saudi-led coalition.

“The UK's role, if there is a role, in Saudi Arabia's bombing of Yemen remains unclear, despite this statement by the government,” said Sayed al-Wadaei, director of advocacy at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

“The answer given by Penny Mordaunt does not clarify what exactly all the British staff are doing at the Saudi and coalition Air and Maritime Headquarters, where, I assume, the Yemen bombing campaign is being coordinated."

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has been compounded by the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign, as well as by fierce fighting on the ground between various groups competing for control of the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Over 80 percent of Yemen’s 21 million people need humanitarian assistance, according to the International Rescue Committee, who have warned that the country is on the brink of famine. The Saudi-led coalition has also been accused of breaching international law during its airstrikes, by a UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. The opposition Houthis militias have also been accused of possibly engaging in war crimes

In her question to the government, Brighton MP Caroline Lucas asked what steps ministers have taken to ensure the Saudi coalition was not breaking international humanitarian law.

Mordaunt replied that “we have received assurances from the Saudis that they are complying with international humanitarian law and we continue to engage with them on those assurances".

The armed forces minister also revealed some details of other British military support to Saudi Arabia, which is taking place “under existing government-to-government arrangements”.

Eleven British personnel are “providing mentoring and advice” to the Saudi National Guard, which is a special arm of the Gulf state’s forces that is tasked with protecting the royal family from potential crises including coups.

Seventy-six military and 42 civilian staff from the UK are working with Saudi’s Ministry of Defence “supporting the UK's commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia through the supply of modern military aircraft, naval vessels, weapons and associated support services to the Saudi Armed Forces”.

Earlier in July, the British government, through Minister of State for Defence Earl Howe, said they were “not participating directly in Saudi-led military operations in Yemen”.

Howe did say the UK has provided “technical support, precision-guided weapons and exchanged information with the Saudi Arabian armed forces,” while also confirming the presence of British staff at the Saudi and coalition air and maritime headquarters.

Saudi Arabia is UK's top export market for weapons. The coalition government, which served from May 2010 until May this year, approved £4bn worth of weapons sales to Riyadh during its tenure.

In a recent column for Middle East Eye David Wearing, who advises the Campaign Against Arms Trade, accused the UK of being complicit in contributing to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and called on the government to revise its relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

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