Govt must clarify whether UK personnel are under Saudi orders

January 15, 2016

UK personnel are working in a Saudi Arabian “control centre” assisting with targeting as part of a bombing campaign in Yemen, which has been accused of attacks which “may amount to a war crime” by the UN Secretary General.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told journalists today that “British officers were working alongside Saudi and other coalition colleagues in the campaign’s operations rooms,” according to media reports. The campaign has reportedly hit several Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) facilities, as well as a centre for the blind and a wedding hall.

The Saudi minister’s revelations go further than previous British Government statements, which have said that nearly 100 UK personnel are embedded in ‘Coalition HQs’ but have failed to specify which coalitions those are. It now appears that the Written Statement published by the Defence Secretary in December last year may have been referring to UK personnel embedded with the Saudi coalition, but did not make this clear at the time.

Whether or not the British personnel in the Saudi centre are ‘embedded’ is significant because the UK Government has previously stated that such personnel fall under the control of the ‘host nation’ – in this case, the Saudis. In a July 2015 statement to Parliament, Michael Fallon said that “Embedded UK personnel operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of command, but remain subject to UK domestic, international and Host Nation law.” Therefore, there are concerns that the UK personnel in the centre could be under the command of the Saudi authorities.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve:

“The Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians, hitting Medicins Sans Frontieres clinics, a school for the blind and a wedding hall.’

“It is shocking to discover that our Government has embroiled British personnel in the targeting process that is creating this mayhem. More disturbingly, we’re learning about the UK’s involvement not from the our Government, but from the Saudi authorities who now appear to be more transparent than their British counterparts.

“Crucial questions remain unanswered: whose command are British personnel in the Saudi operations centre under – British or Saudi? Are they ‘embedded’ personnel referred to in the Defence Secretary’s vague December statement, which stated that 94 British personnel were embedded in ‘Coalition HQs?’ And what part have ministers played in signing off their activities? The British public has a right to know.”

ENDS