Mark Nicol — Mail on Sunday Nov 26, 2017
Up to 50 UK military personnel teaching soldiers who will be deployed to Yemen
Thousands of civilians have been killed in bombing raids hitting the country
Charity Unicef predicts that 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017
The British Army is secretly training Saudi Arabian troops to fight in Yemen, where the country has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Up to 50 UK military personnel have been teaching battlefield skills to soldiers who will be deployed in the so-called ‘dirty war’.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in bombing raids and an estimated one million children are facing starvation and serious illness as a result of the conflict.
The Army’s involvement is part of Britain’s ‘shameful complicity’ in the suffering, according to Tory MP and former Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
The training mission – codenamed Operation Crossways – came to light only after the Army released photos and information by mistake.
The United Nations is investigating the situation in Yemen, describing it as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Some 10,000 people have died since the conflict between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and rebels supported by Iran began in 2015.
Recently a Saudi blockade of Yemen’s ports brought the country to the edge a famine, with the charity Unicef predicting 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017.
Last night, Mr Mitchell demanded that the UK Government provide answers in the Commons about Britain’s role in Saudi military operations.
He said: ‘The UK has been shamefully complicit in Saudi’s role in Yemen, which has clearly included breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
‘I have no doubt Parliament will require an explanation of this training mission in view of the high level of concern about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen.’
Operation Crossways involved troops from 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) teaching ‘Irregular Warfare’ (IW) techniques to officers from the Royal Saudi Land Forces Infantry Institute.
IW is a collective name for specific tactics used by conventional armies to defeat terrorist groups.
In Yemen, Saudi soldiers are fighting against an Iranian-backed paramilitary force known as the Houthi rebels.
Due to the concern surrounding Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen, Operation Crossways was never supposed to be made public.
It came to light only after a mission summary and photographs were inadvertently posted on 2 Scots’ Facebook page earlier this month.
In one picture a British instructor is seen standing in front of a map showing Yemen and the surrounding region as he explains a possible attacking strategy.
The MoD attempted to launch a cover-up after the MoS brought the images to the attention of defence officials.
Within 20 minutes of a reporter contacting the MoD, the images and the summary had been removed from the Facebook page.
Last night, former head of the Royal Navy, Lord West, demanded transparency over the UK’s role in training Saudi troops.
He said: ‘Given the sensitivities surrounding Saudi Arabia and Yemen at the moment it would be better to be open about what we are doing. Our training will hopefully save lives.’
A serving senior British Army officer who chose to remain anonymous added: ‘There will be serious concern that this mission has leaked out given the sensitivities of Saudi’s role in the Yemen conflict.’
The MoS can also reveal the British training mission has involved Explosive Ordnance Disposal officers from the Royal Logistic Corps teaching Saudi troops how to defuse roadside bombs.
The UK has been heavily criticised for selling billions of pounds of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, in particular as British-made bombs are understood to have been used in the Saudis’ aerial bombardment of Yemen.
The MoD said: ‘The UK is not training the Saudi Armed Forces in irregular activity but is providing courses in how to counter it.’
It is a proud achievement that, in the aftermath of two terrible world wars, our leaders created the Geneva Conventions, a historic set of rules to govern conflict.
Yet even this month, as we mark the sacrifice of our soldiers, that rules-based international order is crumbling.
And in Yemen, it is being fatally undermined by our own allies.
As wreaths were being laid in the UK to mark Remembrance Sunday, Yemen was enduring yet another day of a brutal blockade that risks plunging the country into the world’s largest famine. It has been imposed by Saudi Arabia.
The blockade – enforced after Houthi rebels fired a missile towards Riyadh, the Saudi capital – has now been in place for more than 20 days, cutting off half a million tons of food and fuel to a starving population, barring delivery of desperately needed medical supplies, and grounding UN humanitarian flights carrying aid workers to their lifesaving missions.
Ever more urgent pleas from the UN and humanitarian agencies to fully lift the siege fall on deaf ears. Despite Saudi protestations, it is increasingly hard to deny that this constitutes collective punishment of an entire population.
This is a crime under international law – and as an ally and major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, the UK is shamefully complicit.
The impact of the blockade could not be more grave. Yemen is a country ravaged by medieval diseases and on the precipice of a biblical famine.
The Saudi pledge to open some ports to urgent humanitarian supplies does not come close to feeding a population reliant on commercial imports for 80 percent of its food.
Every hour, 27 children are diagnosed as acutely malnourished: that’s 600 more starving children every day. Fuel shortages mean at least seven cities have already run out of clean water and sanitation; hospitals have shut down due to a lack of running water and fuel for generators.
As vaccines run out, one million children are at risk of diphtheria, known as The Strangling Angel of Children.
The imagery on our television screens seems from a bygone era: emaciated children; tiny babies in incubators, their tenuous hold on life dependent on fuel for hospital generators that is fast running out.
Preventing the supply of weapons to Houthi rebels fighting Yemen’s internationally recognised government is a legitimate aim, mandated by UN Security Resolution 2216. But this cannot justify the ongoing strangulation of Yemen and its people.
A UN panel of experts found no evidence to support Saudi claims that their obstruction of civilian goods is stopping missiles being shipped to the Houthis by Iran.
Such an obstruction is illegal under the international system. The UK’s silence in the face of these clear crimes against the people of Yemen not only shames us, it implicates us.
This is a war waged by British allies using British weapons: we have supplied Saudi Arabia with almost £4 billion of weapons and military support in recent years.
As the ‘penholder’ on Yemen, responsible for leading action at the Security Council, we bear a special responsibility – political as well as moral – to lead the international response to end this conflict.
Yet the British government has declined to call this what it is: an illegal blockade. While the Government was right to condemn the attempted Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport, where is the British condemnation of 1,000 days of intensive Saudi bombing of Yemen? On the first day of my recent visit to the capital, Sana’a, the city was attacked six times by bombers from the Saudi air force.
Throughout the conflict, our ‘quiet diplomacy’ has failed to curb outrage after outrage perpetrated by our allies in pursuit of what the UN Secretary-General has called a ‘stupid war’.
The current blockade does not just risk the senseless death of millions. By tightening the noose around a starving population, Saudi Arabia is feeding the propaganda machine of the opponents it aims to vanquish.
More than collective punishment, then, it is self-harm on a grand scale. The Houthis have publicly vowed revenge, blaming Saudi aggression that ‘shuts down all doors for peace and dialogue’.
Saudi Arabia’s borders can ultimately be made secure only by having a stable Yemen. But as it wreaks relentless havoc on its own neighbourhood, it cannot be surprised when the Yemenis refuse to toe the line.
Every action of the Saudis currently serves the narrative of Saudi’s enemies who want it to be seen as the aggressor to win support of the general population.
Prolonging the conflict serves the purpose of those who profit from war and wish to undermine stability in the region: including Iran and extremist groups.
When I was in Yemen, I saw signs in the street in Arabic and English declaring ‘America and Britain are killing Yemeni children’.
The time for UK leadership is now. We must demand an urgent ceasefire, an immediate and unconditional end to the blockade, and a return to reinvigorated, inclusive peace talks.
A new Security Council resolution is long overdue: it is widely recognised that Resolution 2216 is an anachronism that constitutes a barrier to a peace process.
The cost of our inaction is measured in Yemeni lives. The clock is ticking: a child dies every ten minutes. Yemen is also a time bomb threatening international peace and security.
The abrogation of our responsibility to denounce these crimes and use our leverage to stop them condemns millions of Yemenis to death. Shying away from demanding compliance by all to the international rules-based order that we helped take root also weakens a strained system that keeps British citizens safe.
We must use every inch of our leverage – diplomatic, political and economic – to demonstrate to our allies they have more to gain from peace than a fruitless military strategy that is exacerbating the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe and undermines the international rules-based order that keeps us all safe.