A UK opposition coalition has demanded an end to arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen after five British special forces men were reportedly wounded in combat in which they weren’t officially participating.
“It is morally reprehensible that the UK government is not only not considering changing its policy, but is actively lobbying other foreign governments, as it did with Germany, to resume arms sales to Saudi,” read the letter to foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, signed by representatives of the Labour, Scottish National, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Green parties on the fourth anniversary of the grinding war.
The elite Special Boat Service troops’ combat role in Yemen had been a well-kept secret until reports emerged Saturday that five soldiers had sustained injuries while fighting Houthis in Sa’dah in the north. The 30-strong marine unit was ostensibly deployed to “advise” the Saudis, “mainly training and mentoring,” according to an unnamed SBS source quoted in the Daily Mail, but “on occasions they have found themselves in firefights and some British troops have been shot.”
While the UK’s official line on the conflict is to seek a “sustainable political solution,” the increasingly dire humanitarian situation among Yemeni civilians – millions of whom are reportedly on the brink of starvation – as well as reports that British soldiers have found themselves fighting alongside child mercenaries hired by the Saudis to do the hard work of waging war, have provoked outrage, both at home and internationally.
“The UK government is on the wrong side of history,” Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford told the Guardian.
The opposition’s letter calls on Hunt to suspend all arms sales to the Saudis until an independent investigation into the “reckless and barbaric” conduct of the coalition can be conducted. The Saudis and their Emirati allies stand accused of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and committing myriad war crimes – atrocities enabled by military and logistical support from the UK and the US.
Earlier this month, Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster admitted that in addition to arms sales, Royal Air Force personnel provided engineering and “generic training” to the Saudi Air Force. However, he insisted RAF troops were not involved in the loading of weapons for operational sorties in Yemen.
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