The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that Royal Air Force personnel have provided “engineering support” to Saudi Arabian aircraft involved in military operations over Yemen.
Responding to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Minister for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster denied that the RAF had been involved in planning operational sorties for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
He did however confirm the following:
“RAF personnel on secondment to BAE Systems in Saudi Arabia have provided routine engineering support for UK-supplied aircraft operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), including aircraft engaged in military operations in Yemen.”
In March 2015 Houthi rebels forced Yemen’s president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, out of power and in to exile. Saudi Arabia saw the rebels as backed militarily by Iran, and began an air campaign in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has since received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK, and France.
The coalition has repeatedly been accused by human rights groups of conducting unlawful airstrikes on civilian targets. Research from 2016 concluded that more than one-third of all Saudi-led airstrikes had hit civilian sites.
The UN says more than 6,800 civilians have been killed in Yemen since March 2015. Well over half of these casualties have been caused by Saudi-led coalition air strikes. On average, almost 100 civilian deaths or injuries were recorded each week in 2018.
The RAF carried out a joint exercise with the Royal Saudi Air Force in November 2018, with the MoD saying it “builds upon the UK’s commitment to security across the entire Gulf region”.
We already knew that the RAF had provided "generic training support" to the RSAF, including on Exercise Green Flag late last year.
Lancaster did concede that the "subsequent utilisation of trained RSAF aircrew is not monitored" by the UK.https://t.co/OJU3w20UJf
— Henry Jones (@hthjones) March 12, 2019
This is the first time however that we’ve learned of the UK’s involvement in maintaining Saudi jets whilst they’ve carried out strikes over Yemen.
The RSAF uses the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Tornado, and two variants of the F-15. It is unclear which type of aircraft the UK has provided engineering support for.
Mark Lancaster’s full statement can be read here.