Reports say senior British military officers continue to give Saudi forces targeting training, including for their cruise missile attacks, despite the international outrage over Riyadh’s war on Yemen, which has killed thousands of people.
The high level of British military assistance to Riyadh’s military came to light from freedom of information (FoI) requests made by human rights group Reprieve, which has called on UK’s Defense Ministry (MoD) to reconsider its military support for the Saudi kingdom amid its brutal attacks on Yemen, The Guardian reported Friday.
This comes as British defense authorities insist that their officers are not involved in directing Saudi strikes, target selection and military operations in Yemen.
Nearly 9,500 people, including hundreds of children, have been killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against its impoverished neighbor in March 2015.
The Saudi military does not hesitate to use internationally-banned weapons, including cluster bombs, against the Yemenis. The regime does not even spare hospitals run by international medical charities.
Since the conflict began, the report adds, British government has licensed the sale of nearly $4 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudi Kingdom.
The report further cites British defense authorities as revealing that senior UK advisers have provided Royal Saudi air force officers with three courses in “international targeting,” each lasting three weeks.
This is while a seven-man British army artillery detachment has also visited Saudi Arabia to advise land forces on targeting and “weapons-locating radar.”
Additionally, the cruise missile courses delivered by British Royal Air Force (RAF) “weaponeers” relate to the deployment of Storm Shadow, an air-launched explosive device “designed” to demolish buried enemy command centers.
However, Reprieve is concerned that UK’s weaponry training courses may not have included advice on obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid the killing of civilians.
MoD officials were further quoted in the report as saying, “There are up to 20 Royal Saudi air force students on each course … Each three-week course consists of approximately 90 hours of training.”
“RAF weaponeers have provided the RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) with training in the better employment of specific weapons systems,” they added.
Questioning the MoD’s military ties with the Saudis, however, a Reprieve case worker Omran Belhadi stated, “Claims by ministers that Britain is helping the Saudi government abide by the law are disingenuous.
He added, “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.”
Many prominent human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.
In March, Amnesty urged the United States and Britain to halt the “reckless” transfer of “arms for use in the Yemen conflict,” which was leading to a rise in civilian deaths.