… by Ian Greenhalgh
Saudi Arabia has been fighting a war in neighbouring Yemen since March 2015 when they invaded in order to prop up the beleaguered President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi who had been forced to flee the capital Sanaa in February by Shia rebels known as Houthis.
It would take a while to explain the full background of this complex conflict, to explain the different factions involved and their agendas, both stated and secret. What it really all boils down to though is that Saudi Arabia along with four other Gulf States invaded Yemen in order to defeat the Shia Houthis and allow the corrupt Sunni government to remain in power.
The Shia-Sunni issue is complex, especially for a non-Moslem, but the map below illustrates the basis of the issue in the Middle East – most of the region is Sunni, with pockets of Shia. The Saudis and their allies are Sunnis, the Houthis are Shia, as is Iran, therefore the broader picture behind the Yemen conflict is that of a rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.
Religion is far from the only issue driving this conflict however; while Yemen does not have any oil or gas or other precious natural resources to fight over, it is in a strategically important location at the mouth of the Red Sea which is a key artery of global trade.
The nature of the war in Yemen has drawn much international condemnation; a small, impoverished nation attacked by a large, rich nation lavishly equipped with the finest weapons their oil wealth can buy – hardly a fair fight.
One of the nations supplying the Saudis with weapons is Britain and not only is Britain arming the Saudis, it is teaching them how to use them. Therefore, Britain must share in the blame for the suffering of the Yemeni people caused by British weapons. A British hand may not be on the trigger, but a British hand certainly put the gun in the hand and showed them how to shoot it.
Friday 15 April 2016, … The Guardian
FoI requests reveal extent of RAF and army cooperation amid international outcry over kingdom’s airstrikes on Yemen
Senior British military officers are providing targeting training to Saudi forces, including for cruise missile attacks, despite the kingdom’s airstrikes on neighbouring Yemen provoking an international outcry over civilian casualties.
The extent of the assistance to Saudi units from the Ministry of Defence has emerged from freedom of information (FoI) requests made by the human rights organisation Reprieve, which is urging the British government to reconsider providing military support.
The MoD has consistently maintained that British personnel are not involved in directing strikes, selecting targets or conducting operations in Yemen, but the latest revelations demonstrate how close the cooperation has been.
There have been three courses in “international targeting”, each lasting three weeks, for members of the Royal Saudi air force, the MoD has disclosed. A seven-strong army artillery detachment has also visited Saudi Arabia to advise land forces on targeting and “weapons-locating radar”.
The cruise missile courses delivered by RAF “weaponeers” relate to the deployment of Storm Shadow, an air-launched explosive device designed to destroy buried enemy command centres. Reprieve is concerned that the military courses may not contain advice on obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid killing civilians.
Saudi Arabia launched its first attacks on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are Shia Muslims, in March 2015. Since then, the conflict is believed to have killed more than 2,800 civilians, including at least 700 children, many of them in airstrikes.
Over the same period, the UK has licensed sales of £2.8bn of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Parliament’s committee on arms export controls is investigating that commercial relationship.
The FoI response came from the MoD’s operations directorate, Middle East and Near East, Arabian peninsula and the Levant. It showed that a variety of courses had been provided for Saudi pilots and soldiers since the country intervened in Yemen.
The MoD explained:
“There are up to 20 Royal Saudi air force students on each course … Each three-week course consists of approximately 90 hours of training.
“These courses have been delivered by a team of three: a Sqn Ldr – OC targets training; a Flt Lt – targets specialist; and an MoD civilian C1 – air warfare centre operational analyst: weapons and weaponeering specialist. Secondly, a seven-man short term training team visited Saudi Arabia to provide field artillery and weapons locating radar (WLR) training to the Royal Saudi land force (RSLF).
“The field artillery course was delivered to RSLF artillery institute instructors. Overall, 52 hours of training were provided. The training was provided by a team of four: a battery commander close support artillery battery (Maj); a battery captain close support artillery (Capt); a sergeant major instructor in gunnery close support artillery (WOII); and a detachment commander close support artillery (Sgt).”
The MoD said the weapons-locating radar courses were “delivered to a mixed group of soldiers and officers from the RSLF field artillery”.
“Overall, 44 hours of training were provided. The training was provided by a team of three: a battery commander surveillance targeting and acquisition battery (Maj); a sergeant major instructor in gunnery surveillance targeting and acquisition (WOII); and a troop staff sergeant and SME [subject matter expert in] surveillance targeting and acquisition battery (Staff Sgt).”
The MoD also acknowledged there was an “ongoing engagement” between the Saudi and UK air forces over Storm Shadow. “RAF weaponeers have provided the RSAF with training in the better employment of specific weapons systems. Since March 2015, this has consisted of training in Storm Shadow targeting on two occasions. Finally, Saudi personnel may be invited to attend regular training courses run in the UK for UK and allied forces.”
The FoI response contained the standard MoD disclaimer in relation to the Yemen conflict: “British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets, and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process. UK service personnel provide guidance on best practice techniques, including advice to help continued compliance with international humanitarian law. This advice will be provided to a range of personnel in Saudi headquarters and the Saudi ministry of defence.”
Commenting on the MoD assistance to the Saudis, Omran Belhadi, a case worker at Reprieve, said: “Claims by ministers that Britain is helping the Saudi government abide by the law are disingenuous.
“Extensive British ‘targeting training’ has done nothing to prevent the bombing of schools, hospitals and weddings, and the deaths of thousands of Yemeni civilians. The UK claims its support to the Saudi-led campaign is necessary to combat terrorism – but killing innocents doesn’t make us safer. Ministers must urgently reconsider the UK’s support for these abuses.”
Earlier this week, the international lawyer Prof Phillipe Sands QC, of Matrix Chambers, called on the committee on arms export controls to ask ministers to seek assurances that British weapons were not being used in indiscriminate attacks. A fragile ceasefire exists in Yemen.
An MoD spokesperson told the Guardian: “UK training helps support continued compliance with international humanitarian law. We do not play a role in targeting decisions or military operations.”