The Guardian tells of UK crimes in the Yemeni war
By: Ali Azimi
The UK continues to support the killing of Yemeni people by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, with support from Saudi Arabia and other dictatorial regimes in the West Asian region. Undoubtedly, in the near future, the role of London in killing innocent Yemeni people will be more clearly identified.
Although the British authorities are trying to prevent their role in the Yemeni war using their complex media and security networks, the documentation is so large that the English killer politicians can not deny it. Here, We review one of the reports by Guardian about Britain’s role in the Yemeni war:
For more than four years, a brutal Saudi air campaign has bombarded Yemen, killing tens of thousands, injuring hundreds of thousands and displacing millions – creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And British weapons are doing much of the killing. Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, has “targeted civilians … in a widespread and systematic manner”, according to the UN – dropping bombs on hospitals, schools, weddings, funerals and even camps for displaced people fleeing the bombing.
Saudi Arabia has in effect contracted out vital parts of its war against Yemen’s Houthi movement to the US and the UK. Britain does not merely supply weapons for this war: it provides the personnel and expertise required to keep the war going. The British government has deployed RAF personnel to work as engineers, and to train Saudi pilots and targeteers – while an even larger role is played by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, which the government has subcontracted to provide weapons, maintenance and engineers inside Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudi bosses absolutely depend on BAE Systems,” John Deverell, a former MoD mandarin and defence attache to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, told me. “They couldn’t do it without us.” A BAE employee recently put it more plainly to Channel 4’s Dispatches: “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”
The British bombs that rain down on Yemen are produced in three towns: Glenrothes in Scotland, and Harlow and Stevenage in south-east England. Bombs roll off production lines owned by Raytheon UK and BAE Systems, firms contracted by the government to manufacture Paveway bombs (£22,000 apiece), Brimstone bombs (£105,000 apiece), and Storm Shadow cruise missiles (£790,000 apiece) for the Saudi Royal Air Force. BAE, under government contract, also assembles the jets that drop these bombs in hangars just outside the village of Warton, Lancashire.
Once these weapons arrive in Saudi Arabia, Britain’s involvement is far from over. The Saudi military lacks the expertise to use these weapons to fight a sustained air war – so BAE, under another contract to the UK government, provides what are known as “in-country” services. In practice, this means that around 6,300 British contractors are stationed at forward operating bases in Saudi Arabia. There, they train Saudi pilots and conduct essential maintenance night and day on planes worn out from flying thousands of miles across the Saudi desert to their targets in Yemen. They also supervise Saudi soldiers to load bombs on to planes and set their fuses for their intended targets.
Around 80 serving RAF personnel work inside Saudi Arabia. Sometimes they work for BAE to assist in maintaining and preparing aircraft. At other times they work as auditors to ensure that BAE is fulfilling its Ministry of Defence contracts. Additional RAF “liaison officers” work inside the command-and-control centre, from where targets in Yemen are selected.
Aircraft alone have never defeated a guerrilla insurgency. Despite atrocities committed by the Houthis on the ground, the rebel group’s domestic support has only been bolstered by outrage over years of Saudi bombing. Facing up to this reality, last year Saudi Arabia decided to deploy significant ground forces across the border – and here too, the British have joined the mission. In May 2018, an unknown number of British troops were sent to Yemen to assist Saudi ground forces. Since then, multiple newspapers have published reports of British special forces wounded in gun battles inside Houthi-controlled territory.
Under British law, it is illegal to licence arms exports if they might be used deliberately or recklessly against civilians – or in legal terms, to violate international humanitarian law. There is overwhelming evidence that the Saudis are flagrantly in violation, and yet when questions are raised in Parliament about Britain’s role in the atrocities occurring in Yemen, Conservative ministers typically limit themselves to three well-worn responses.First, they claim that Britain operates “one of the most robust arms export regimes in the world”.
Second, they say that while Britain may arm Saudi Arabia, it does not pick the targets in Yemen. Third, they say that the Saudi-led coalition already investigates its own alleged violations of international humanitarian law.
These responses have long since been overtaken by the bloody reality of the Yemen war. In fact, as the conflict has continued, the killing of civilians has actually accelerated. According to Larry Lewis, a former US State Department official who was sent to Saudi Arabia in 2015 in an attempt to reduce civilian harm, the proportion of strikes against civilians by Saudi-led forces almost doubled between 2017 and 2018.
The UK government’s argument that it does not pick the targets in Yemen resembles nothing so much as the logic of the American gun lobby, with its infamous claim that it’s not guns that kill people, but the people who use them. Since 2016, many countries have revoked or suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia – including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. But Britain and the US, whose planes constitute the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s combat fleet, are still holding out.
This could soon change. Three of Britain’s most senior judges are now mulling whether the government’s licensing of billions of pounds of arms to the Saudi Royal Air Force has been legal. The court of appeal’s judgment, expected this week, could force the government to suspend the licences that keep the bombs and spare parts flowing to Saudi Arabia, which would ground half of Saudi Arabia’s fleet in a matter of weeks.
The judiciary may now decide to curtail Britain’s ability to sustain Saudi Arabia’s doomed and destructive air war. The British and Saudi governments may also decide to send more aid to help the 24 million Yemenis now dependent on an underfunded UN relief fund. But a generation of Yemenis who have lost their families, their homes, educations and livelihoods will not get them back.On a 2016 trip to Yemen, the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell visited a school in the capital. It had been built, he said, with British aid – only to be destroyed, in all likelihood, by a British bomb. “I asked my host what the children were chanting,” he recalled to me in his Westminster office. His host translated for him: “‘Death to the Saudis’, ‘Death to the Americans’ – and in respect for your visit today, they have cut out the third stanza.”
On 27 March 2015, one day after the first bombs fell on Yemen, foreign secretary Philip Hammond told reporters that Britain would “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. This would prove to be an understatement.
BAE and Raytheon production lines in Britain sped up to keep up with Saudi bombing. It is impossible to say how many bombs the UK has sent to Yemen, because the government in 2013 and 2014 granted BAE three special arms-export licences that permit the sale of an unlimited number of bombs to Saudi Arabia without requiring disclosure of how many have been sold. As a result, the full scale of the UK’s rearmament programme has remained hidden.But even discounting this secret trade, British military exports to Riyadh multiplied almost 35-fold in one year, from £83m in 2014 to £2.9bn in 2015.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, can afford to buy these weapons, but it has traditionally lacked the skills and manpower to deploy them. A retired US defence official joked that in the past, all the kingdom’s pilots were selected from the king’s immediate family – because “only they could be trusted not to drop a bomb on his palace”.
British personnel have played a major role in picking up the slack. Government contractors carry out around 95% of the tasks necessary to fight the air war, one former BAE employee told Channel 4’s Dispatches – an estimate confirmed to me by a former senior British official who worked in Saudi Arabia during the air war.
Inside Saudi forward operating bases, there are thousands of British contractors working to keep the war machine moving. British contractors coordinate the distribution of bombs and aircraft parts. They manage climate-controlled armories and work in shifts to ensure bombs are dispatched in a timely manner for fresh raids. Alongside RAF personnel, British contractors train Saudi pilots to conduct hazardous bombing raids in Yemen’s rugged northern mountains and over its cities. They also manage avionics and radar systems to ensure that Saudi planes can get to and from their targets, and conduct the deep aircraft maintenance necessary to keep them circling over Yemen.
The British government is keen to stress that it has no role in targeting, and insists that only Saudi Arabia chooses what to hit in Yemen. But there is no disputing the fact that British contractors enable Saudi Arabia to hit its targets – and that Britain is well aware of the nature of these targets.
Michael Knights, a Gulf military expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has made two visits since the war began to the Saudi airbase at Khamis Mushayt, near the border with Yemen. Planes from this base, he told me, had waged an “out-and-out coercive air campaign” of “terror bombing” over the city of Saada in 2015 and 2016. “You couldn’t have hit more civilian targets,” he said. Saudi military chiefs “worked their way down a list of all the national infrastructure targets like we did [when the US and UK bombed Iraq during the Gulf war] in 1991 … that meant everything: cranes, bridges, ministries … water treatment plants.”
Human rights groups have criticised the Saudi-led coalition for its use of so-called “double-tap” attacks – in which a second bomb is dropped a few minutes after the first, targeting civilians and emergency responders who have rushed to the site of the first explosion. One such staggered attack on 8 October 2016 hit a funeral in Sana’a, killing 155 mourners and wounding at least 525. Another double-tap strike hit a wedding party in the remote village of Al-Wahijah on 28 Sept 2015, killing 131 civilians. “The corpses were scattered among the trees,” the father of the groom, Mohammed Busaibis, told the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana, adding that he learned his own mother had died when he saw her familiar scar on a disembodied leg. “Why did they attack us? There is nothing around here. No military camps, not even a police station.”
The former senior British official told me he was aghast at the recklessness of Saudi targeting. “This is what would happen regularly,” he told me. “We’d be sitting down for lunch and a Yemeni [from the government in exile] would get a WhatsApp message with a pin on Google Maps saying that there will be Houthis here. On that basis, an awful lot of the targeting was conducted without any verification whatsoever.”
Larry Lewis, the State Department advisor for civilian protection, described Saudi targeting to me as “incredibly loose”. “In the US and the UK,” he explained, “we have very formal processes” for airstrikes, but “this coalition is not using them … And when you mess up, bad things happen.”
Lewis says that in September 2016 – a few weeks before the funeral strike – he took his concerns to the chairman of the Saudi armed forces. “I laid out all of the very actionable things he could do to reduce civilian harm,” he told me. “The chairman didn’t really seem very interested … he just didn’t respond.” Last July, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the architect of the air war, issued a royal decree “pardoning all military personnel who have taken part in Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties.”
After Saudi Arabia realised it could not defeat the Houthis with airstrikes alone, it launched a ground operation in northern Yemen, which includes thousands of Saudi troops, a wide assortment of Yemeni and foreign fighters, and British special forces.
The presence of British special forces in Yemen has not been officially acknowledged, but has become an open secret in defence circles. A senior British diplomatic source told me that the decision to approve military assistance to Saudi Arabia emerged from a meeting in London between British ministers and Bin Salman during his state visit to the UK in March 2018 – when he met the Queen and signed a memorandum of intent to buy 48 more jets worth £10bn to upgrade his war-ravaged fleet.
Two months later, on 23 May 2018, Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, released a carefully worded statement committing an undisclosed number of UK troops to provide “information, advice and assistance” to “mitigate” the threat to Saudi Arabia from Houthi missiles.
The UK government refuses to confirm or deny whether it has deployed troops inside Yemen. In April, when asked in parliament about allegations published in the Mail on Sunday that British special forces were fighting in Yemen alongside Saudi-backed child soldiers, foreign minister Mark Field called for an investigation, while refusing to confirm whether British troops were in the country at all.
What is certain is that the British government must respond to its crimes in Yemen. UK support for US regional strategies is surely based on Britain’s traditional policy to stay in the corners and take a share of the final profits, but this time, given the upcoming crisis, it seems that London will not receive the benefits it seeks.
Since 2000, UK citizens have been severely burdened by high prices that they had to pay for government projects such as supporting George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq war, constant interference in Persian Gulf and constructing military bases in this region, supporting Saudi Arabia regime in attacking Yemen, supporting the Zionist regime in many attacks against Palestinian resistance groups and giving large amounts of money and arms to terrorist and Takfiri groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra Front.
UK, with following Trump’s regional polices will be incurring just more high costs on the country and will surely become the “complete loser” of this game. It is no surprise that many UK citizens are constantly protesting against the government and ask them to stop following Washington in their international policies.