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Yemen: Deployment of UK troops to Saudi Arabia won't change situation

This file photo shows British soldiers from the 16th Regiment Royal Artillery.

A member of Yemen's Supreme Political Council has reacted to reports on the secret deployment of British troops to Saudi Arabia, saying the move will not change the situation on the ground.

On Saturday, British daily The Independent revealed that UK troops had been sent to defend oil fields in Saudi Arabia without the knowledge of parliament or the public.

Speaking to the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster on Saturday, Mohammad al-Bakhiti said Britain and the United States are basically members of the Saudi-led coalition of aggressors against Yemen.

“The deployment of UK forces in Saudi Arabia does not change anything,” he added.

According to The Independent, gunners from Britain's 16th Regiment Royal Artillery have been sent to Saudi Arabia to man Giraffe radars.

Opposition parties, the paper said, accused the UK government of lacking a “moral compass” and dodging scrutiny. Campaigners said the episode was “symptomatic of the toxic relationship” between the government and the oil-rich autocracy, it added.

The UK Ministry of Defense claimed that the mission was to protect Saudi oil fields in the wake of the September 2019 attacks on Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, east of the kingdom.

“Following the attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities on 14 September 2019, we have worked with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and wider international partners to consider how to strengthen the defense of its critical economic infrastructure from aerial threats,” a ministry spokesperson told The Independent, noting that the deployment included an advanced military radar system to help detect drone strikes.

British Defense Minister James Heappey also confirmed in separate written correspondence that the “personnel have accompanied the deployment of Giraffe radars to Riyadh.”

The deployment, he added, was still “ongoing as of late November and had so far cost UK taxpayers £840,360.

The UK military operation, launched in February, overlapped with a ban on exporting military hardware to Saudi Arabia because of concerns that the regime forces were committing war crimes in the military aggression against Yemen.

Andrew Smith, from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said, “This secretive and opaque operation is symptomatic of the toxic relationship between the UK government and the Saudi Arabian authorities.

“There are big questions about this operation and why UK forces were deployed, but the entire relationship needs to be scrutinized. Despite the decades of abuses that have been inflicted on Saudi people, and the war crimes and atrocities committed against Yemen, the Saudi regime has always been able to rely on the uncritical political and military support of Downing Street,” he added.

“The bombing of Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It would not have been possible without the complicity of arms-dealing governments like the UK. With the UK aid budget being cut, and COVID-19 making the humanitarian situation even worse, it is more vital than ever that those arms sales are stopped.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, described the reports on the deployment of British soldiers to Saudi Arabia as “shocking.”

“Not only is this government selling the Saudi government arms to use against civilians in Yemen, but deploying troops to defend Saudi oil fields, reveals just how absent this government’s moral compass truly is,” she said.

Saudi Arabia launched a devastating military aggression against Yemen in March 2015 in collaboration with a number of its allied states, and with arms support from several Western countries.

The aim was to return to power a Riyadh-backed former regime and defeat the Houthi Ansarullah movement that has taken control of state matters.

The war has failed to achieve its goals, but killed tens of thousands of innocent Yemenis and destroyed the impoverished country’s infrastructure. The UN refers to the situation in Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On Sunday morning, Saudi warplanes bombarded Sana’a International Airport, al-Masirah TV reported without elaborating on possible casualties or damage.

Since the begging of the bloody war, the UK has licensed at least £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Riyadh regime, including bombs and aircraft.

British armed forces have also provided at least 42 training modules for Saudi soldiers over the past two years, including in air warfare, officer training, and electronic warfare.

An investigation by the Declassified UK website shows British troops are stationed across 15 sites inside Saudi Arabia.

‘All Saudi facilities legitimate target for Yemenis’

In his remarks, Bakhiti warned foreign oil companies against remaining in Saudi Arabia as well as ships against passing through the kingdom’s ports, saying that all Saudi facilities are a legitimate target for the Yemeni army and allied Popular Committees.

On Monday, Yemeni forces conducted a missile attack on an Aramco petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah in response to the Riyadh-led war and siege of their homeland.

Saudi Arabia acknowledged that the Yemeni raid targeted the “core of the global economy and its supply routes,” causing major damage to the Aramco distribution facility.

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