Britain’s role in Yemen

Saudi-fronted campaign

The attack on Yemen is not “Saudi-led” but merely Saudi-fronted. Britain and the United States are concealed behind what Lord Curzon once called an ‘Arab facade’. Philip Hammond claimed Britain aren’t directly involved in the Yemen campaign but hinted they could be in the future. He instead states that Britain will support the assault on Yemen “in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. [9] Below is a catalogue of British involvement, based on reporting so far:

Direct involvement by British personnel

  • British military personnel key in the codes that help select and attack targets. [10]
  • Britain provides Saudi Arabia with intelligence for targeting. [13]
  • “[S]ix [British] experts are working with Saudi targeteers who select locations for attack.” [11]
  • British officials have access to lists of targets. [1]
  • Targeting training: Britain is providing targeting training to Saudi forces, including for cruise missile attacks. Three three-week courses in targeting for the Royal Saudi Air Force (20 attendees on each). Saudi land forces were trained in targeting and “weapons-locating radar”. [14]

Presence in the command room

  • British military personnel are in the command room as airstrikes are carried out. [10] [1]
  • The control room (with the British personnel inside) is in Riyadh. [12]


  • Sky News reports: “British military experts have joined Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against rebels in Yemen”. [11]
  • The British military team in Riyadh make battle-damage assessments following bombing raids. [33]

Signing off arms licenses

  • Government ministers sign off all weapons licenses. [16]

Pilot training

  • Britain trained the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) in both Britain and Saudi Arabia. [31]

Weapons training

  • Saudis were trained to use ‘Storm Shadow’ (“an air-launched explosive device designed to destroy buried enemy command centres”). [14]
  • Britain may host Saudi personnel in the UK for further training. [14]

Other support

  • Refuelling: Britain/US is helping to provide airborne refuelling for bomber jets. [13]
  • Intelligence [7]
  • Logistical support [7]


Weapons sold

  • Aircraft [7] [9]
    • Hammond confirmed British-made aircraft were being used in the campaign. [9]
  • Helicopters [7]
  • Drones [7]
  • Bombs [16] [7] [21]
  • Cluster bombs [19]
    • Britain is believed to have sold large numbers of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia since the 1990s. [19]
  • Missiles [13] [16] [7]
    • Britain agreed to provide hundreds of Paveway IV missiles. [13]
  • Rockets [16]
  • Tanks [7]
  • Armoured vehicles [7]
  • Grenades [7]
  • Laser guidance kits [21]

Cash value

  • Saudi Arabia is Britain’s biggest customer for arms sales. [21]
  • Britain has agreed £5.6bn arms contracts with Saudi Arabia in the last five years. [11]
  • Britain agreed orders for £3.5bn of weaponry since the start of 2015 (reported in August 2016). [21]
  • Since the conflict began Britain has granted arms licenses to Saudi Arabia for £3.3 billion (US$4.4 billion) worth of arms/ammunition in the first year of the war. [15] [7]
  • Britain licensed £2.8bn of weaponry to Saudi Arabia between March 2015 – April 2016. [14]
  • £1,066,216,510 of weapons was sold to Saudi Arabia from July to September 2015 [16]

Increase in arms sales

  • “Over a three-month period in 2015, the value of exports of British-made bombs and missiles had increased by 11,000%, from £9m to £1bn.” [10]
  • British arms companies increased sales to Saudi Arabia by over a hundred times. [16]
  • Despite war crimes Philip Hammond said: “We’d always like to do more business”. [16]
  • Cameron’s belief that there is no military solution to the conflict didn’t affect arms exports to Saudi Arabia. [16]


  • Britain backed the blockade of Yemen in a UN Security Council resolution (Note – very few articles in the British mainstream press even mention the blockade). [7]
  • The blockade is being enforced by US/NATO ships. In November 2016 it was reported that Britain had secretly deployed a £1bn ‘Destroyer’ warship to the coast of Yemen. [32]
  • Britain’s closest ally, the US, has seven combat ships (including the USS Winston Churchill) surrounding Yemen carrying thousands of soldiers. [26]

Diplomatic cover/dishonesty

Denying humanitarian violations

  • Boris Johnson said the Saudis were not “in clear breach” of humanitarian law. The British Foreign Office corrected this on 21st July 2016: “We have been unable to assess whether there is a breach of international humanitarian law.” [7]
  • The British Foreign Office said: “The Government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with this export licensing criteria.” [19]
  • Britain claims Saudi Arabia didn’t drop a British-made cluster bomb, despite Amnesty evidence. [20]


  • Misleading parliament
    • The British government repeatedly misled parliament. [7]
    • Tobias Ellwood was forced to correct six statements that had previously been given about the conflict. [21]
    • There is an official blanket ban on comments about ‘Special Forces’ operations or intelligence matters. There is a common practice of ‘seconding’ military personnel to intelligence agencies, bringing them under the umbrella of this ban. Such a tactic allows the British government to outright lie about military involvement in various conflicts. [1]
    • In January 2016 Cameron said: British “personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and we’re not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.” [1]
    • 13th September 2016 – The British government claims “[t]here are no UK Armed Forces personnel based in Yemen”. [5]
  • Blocking investigation
    • Britain helped block an independent investigation of human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council. [7] [18]
    • In 2006 Blair prevented an investigation into arms sales to Saudi Arabia. [21]
  • Calling for self-investigation
    • Boris Johnson said the Saudis should self-investigate because they have “the best insight”, adding, “[t]his is the standard we set ourselves”. This is obviously an official government line because British Foreign Office official Joyce Anelay said almost exactly the same thing when responding to a question put to the FCO. [7] [22]
  • Watering down condemnation
    • The British government watered down a government report relating to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. [7]
  • Making excuses
    • Ellwood defended Saudi Arabia’s response to criticism: “It was new territory for Saudi Arabia and a conservative nation was not used to such exposure.” [7]

Ignoring war crimes/human rights violations

  • There are doubts within the Foreign Office about the legality of the British contribution in Yemen. Foreign Office lawyers, diplomats and advisers to Hammond have warned that Britain could be prosecuted for war crimes because arms sales to Saudi Arabia may breach international humanitarian law. [13]
  • Human Rights Watch say they have documented 30 examples breaching the international rules of war (Sky News reported this in January 2016). [11]
  • Amnesty, HRW and other NGOs say there is no doubt British weapons have hit civilians. [13]
  • At the start of 2016 Human Rights Watch found evidence of British-made bombs and laser guidance kits being used in Yemen. [21]
  • Britain is aware of reports of airstrikes on medical facilities. [22]
  • Amnesty documented the recent use of a British-made cluster bomb in Yemen, which has been banned for decades. The cluster bomb was a British-made BL-755, designed to be dropped by British-made Tornado jets (used by Saudi Arabia). [19]
  • A civilian factory was proven to be destroyed by a British cruise missile, causing civilian loss of life. [13]
  • A widely-circulated video shows a college being bombed in Yemen (January 2016), which is a war crime. [15]
  • Since 2014 Britain has trained “either security or armed forces personnel” in Yemen, despite the country being on Britain’s own watchlist of human rights abusers. [8]

Destruction of Yemen
Deaths during the conflict

  • Total deaths
    • At least 10,000 Yemenis have died so far (reported January 2016). [11]
    • The war has killed 10,000 people (reported September 2016). [15]
  • Civilian deaths
    • Two-thirds of civilian casualties have been caused by the airstrikes. [16]
    • Close to 5,000 civilians have been killed (reported in November 2015). [13]
    • The UN says 3,218 civilians have been killed so far (reported in March 2016). [17]
    • This article (from April 2016) states 2,800 civilians have been killed in the conflict (700+ children). [14]
    • UN says the air-bombing of Yemen has killed 2,000 civilians (reported August 2016). [12]
  • Children deaths
    • Unicef: 10 children a day are being killed. [13]
  • Casualties during the conflict
    • 60% of casualties are a result of Saudi-fronted British/US airstrikes. [18]

Targeting civilians

  • Peter Oborne claims he witnessed evidence of British proxies (Saudi Arabia/GCC) targeting civilians. [7]
  • Examples of civilian incidents (not exhaustive):
    • School [12] [15] [14]
      • 630 schools and institutes damaged/destroyed. [7]
      • A school was bombed killing ten children in an area far from the front-line where there was no active ground fighting. [12]
      • A college was bombed. [15]
    • Wedding [14] [16]
      • Airstrikes killed 130 civilians at a wedding. [16] [14]
    • Medical facilities [2] [14]
      • 250 health facilities damaged/destroyed. [7]
      • Airstrikes on medical facilities. [2] [14]
      • Four MSF hospitals were hit by airstrikes despite MSF giving their GPS coordinates to Saudi authorities. [7]
    • Mosques
      • 648 mosques have been damaged/destroyed. [7]
    • Homes
      • 330,000 homes damaged/destroyed. [7]
    • Markets
      • 106 people were killed in an airstrike on a market. UN said there were no military targets nearby. [17]
    • Civilian infrastructure
      • A civilian factory was destroyed. [13]

Birth defects

  • Doctors in Yemen have reported a drastic increase in stillbirths and children born with deformities in areas under heavy bombardment. [34]

Blockade-related suffering

  • 20 of Yemen’s 22 governates are on the edge of famine. [18]
  • The World Food Programme: most Yemeni provinces are one level below a full famine crisis. [13]
  • UN: 21 million lack basic life-sustaining services. [13]
  • Unicef: 6 million face food insecurity. [13]
  • A doctor estimates there are 25 people dying every day at the Republic hospital due to the blockade alone. [7]


  • UN: 1.5 million have been displaced from their home [13]

Unexploded munitions

  • Cluster bombs
    • Amnesty claims a British-made cluster bomb was dropped in Yemen on 18th or 19th January 2016. [20]
    • An unexploded cluster bomb containing 147 ‘bomblets’ was found in a Yemeni village. [19]
  • Villagers have been injured attempting to clear unexploded ‘bomblets’. [19]

Previous British campaign in Yemen, leading into the current conflict

Timeframe (according to reports)

  • Since 2002 Britain has played “a leading role” in a ‘JPEL’ assassination campaign in a number of countries, including Yemen. [6]
  • The British Foreign Office has confirmed its “counter-terrorism capacity building support” continued up until the closure of the embassy in February 2015. [1]
  • Reports have shown that the drone-bombing campaign continues to this day, as does the involvement of British intelligence. [27]

Conducting covert operations

  • MI6 and British ‘Special Forces’ have been active in covert operations in Yemen. [1]
  • MI6 have infiltrated AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). Britain has a long history of protecting agents in such groups and allowing them to commit atrocities. [2]
  • British officials took part in “hits”. [3]

Providing military infrastructure

  • A British base in England (Menwith Hill) is used to aid “a significant number of capture-kill operations” in a number of countries, Yemen included. [7]
  • Reported: The British government has consistently asserted that operations at this base “have always been, and continue to be” carried out with its “knowledge and consent.” [7]

Providing intelligence for drone-strikes

  • MI6 and British ‘Special Forces’ identify targets for drone-strikes. [1]
  • MI6 provided targeting information for drone-strikes. The intelligence for a strike can come from British intelligence personnel embedded in AQAP. [2]
  • British officials “triangulate[d]” intelligence for target lists. [3]
  • British officials prepared “target packages” for the assassination campaign. [3]
  • MI6 helps observe and fix targets ahead of drone-strikes. [2]

The nature of the program

  • The drone program considers all ‘military-age males’ in a ‘strike zone’ as legitimate targets. [4]
  • 1,147 people have been killed in attempts to target 41 named individuals. [3]
  • Ex-Foreign Minister of Yemen said Britain had a “blank cheque” to carry out drone operations. [3]
    • However their consent wasn’t necessary as Tony Blair made clear in 2001: “Our strategy should be to work with the Yemenis if we can, but to leave them in no doubt that if they fail to take the necessary action, they run the risk of others doing it for them”. [28]

The significance of Britain’s role

  • A former senior CIA official, when discussing a particular drone-strike confirmed: “the most important contribution” to the intelligence for the strike came from “a very important British capability” – British intelligence personnel embedded within AQAP. [2]
  • British officials played a “crucial and sustained role” in the drone program. [3]
  • An ex-CIA official said Britain played a “pretty critical” role in the drone program. [3]

Operations Room

  • In support of drone-strikes, British officials worked in a Yemeni National Security Bureau “joint operations room” with US and Yemeni forces. [3]
  • An MI6 team mentored Yemenis in a Joint Operations Room, observing and fixing targets ahead of drone-strikes. [2]


  • As the British government refuses to talk about ‘Special Forces’ operations, they denied their part in the drone program. In 2014 the MoD said: “The UK does not provide any military support to the US campaign of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) strikes on Yemen.” [1]
  • In 2014 the British government denied providing any “military support” to the drone program, adding that drone-strikes are “a matter for the states involved”. Britain denied knowledge of an ‘operations room’ for targeting and claimed there were only two British military personnel in Yemen (in 2014). [3]

Britain’s historical role in Yemen


  • Britain ruled Aden for a century and a half. [23]
  • Britain recruited sympathetic Arabs into their ‘Special Branch’. [29]
  • British forces were deployed to Yemen 1947 (Suppression of civil disturbances), 1955-60 (Yemen border incidents), 1962-70 (sided with the Royalists in the Yemen Civil War), and 1964 (Yemen Radfan campaign against socialist-led revolutionaries). [24]
  • Britain ignored a 1963 UN call to withdraw from Aden. [30]
  • There is a replica of ‘Big Ben’ there called ‘Little Ben’ and a statue of Queen Victoria. [23]
  • The so-called ‘Aden emergency’ lasted from 1963 to 1967. [23]
  • Britain, colluding with Israel’s Mossad and Saudi Arabia, conducted a covert war in 1960s North Yemen in which 200,000 died. [30]
    • “In the mid-1960s, Britain (in alliance with Saudi Arabia and Jordan) joined royalists trying to quash a republican uprising in North Yemen that coincided with a deadly guerrilla insurgency against the British to the south, in the colony of Aden – the ‘cornerstone of British military policy in the Gulf region’.” [29]

British dirty war

  • Britain had a ‘Special Ops’ force called the Terrorist Weapons and Tactics Team (known as… ‘TWATTs’). They specialised in “using terrorist weapons and tactics…” [23]
  • British soldiers had been involved in unprovoked killings in Aden. [29]
  • One veteran said if he told the truth about Aden, “half the battalion would be done for murder”. [29]
  • MI6 worked with locals to “direct the planting of bombs” while towns were “shot up” and political figures murdered. [30]
  • The British government, whilst lying about it, authorised and funded a mercenary operation conducted by dozens of ex-SAS troops, with MI6 and GCHQ providing intelligence and logistics. [30]
  • The British government privately called for “tribal revolts” so that Britain could initiate “deniable action … to sabotage [pro-Yemeni Republican] intelligence centres and kill personnel engaged in anti-British activities”. [29]
  • The British Army, including the SAS, operated plain-clothed death squads “disguised as Arabs”. [29] [30]
  • Tens of thousands fled from RAF bombs that destroyed villages/crops. [30]

“Mad Mitch” Mitchell

  • Under Lieutenant Colonel “Mad Mitch” Mitchell’s leadership, the British sniper-shot anyone who looked like a threat. He called this “Argyll Law” and said “[i]t was like shooting grouse”. [29]
  • “Mad Mitch” Mitchell viewed the locals as “dirty, smelly people”. [29]
  • Lieutenant Colonel “Mad Mitch” Mitchell led the brutality and was later rewarded by being elected to the House of Commons as a Tory MP. [23]
  • “Mad Mitch” later served in N. Ireland. [29]

British torture

  • Sexual humiliation
    • Prisoners were forced to sit naked on a metal pole whilst their weight forced it into their anus [25] [23]
    • Prisoners had their genitals twisted and crushed by the hands of guards [25] [23]
    • Prisoners were stripped naked and forced to stay in refrigerated cells – encouraging frostbite and pneumonia. [25] [23]
    • Prisoners had to stand naked during interrogations. [23]
  • Guards would stub out cigarettes on prisoners’ skin. [25] [23]
  • There were frequent physical beatings. [25]
  • The British army tortured Yemenis with the notorious ‘Five Techniques’ (“wall-standing, hooding, noise, bread and water diet and deprivation of sleep”). [30] [23]
  • Some prisoners had their eardrums pierced. [30]
  • A 1966 Amnesty report caused global outrage but the torture centres remained for a full year afterwards and the Red Cross and Amnesty International were denied access to the victims. [25] [30]

Psychological warfare

  • The British practised “misinformation and psychological warfare”. [23]


  • In 1964 Prime Minister Douglas-Hume said Britain had a non-interventionist policy towards Yemen, “It is not therefore our policy to supply arms to the Royalists.” But they did. [29]
  28. Blair-to-Bush memo, 4th December 2001 (released by Chilcot)
  29. Chapter 13 of Anne Cadwallader’s “Lethal Allies” (2013)
  30. Chapter 12 of Mark Curtis’s “Web of Deceit” (2003)

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