British troops are conducting secret operations in Yemen training Saudi forces, according to a report by the investigative website Declassified.
The military personnel are said to be based in Al-Ghaydah airport, in the country’s eastern province of Al-Mahra, where they have been for several months and which Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed last year that the Saudis were using as a detention and interrogation facility, where torture and illegal rendition to the kingdom take place.
Citing a local journalist who was embedded with the Saudi forces, the report revealed that the British troops were seen at the airport this year, claiming: “They are a fully-fledged force. We can’t say they are minor.”
A tribal sheikh who has led sit-in protests against the Saudi occupation was quoted in the report as claiming that staff at the airport have seen British troops inside. Hameed Zaabnoot said: “The tasks assigned to them so far are military training and logistical support, either for Saudi forces or Saudi-backed militia that are elements from the Southern Transitional Council.”
“The number of British forces… is between 20 and 30 instructors, 10 of which are permanent,” Zaabnoot added.
Last month in an interview on Yemen’s Almahriah TV channel, Britain’s Ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron was questioned over the allegations of UK forces in the country. Aron appeared to not deny the claims, saying: “We support efforts of fighting terrorism and smuggling. This is our position for a long time,” adding that “we have good and deep relations with the legitimate government.”
The reports corroborate those of the Sanaa-based Yemen Press Agency, which reported earlier in the year that American and British soldiers arrived at Al-Ghaydah airport and citied previous claims by activists that some were also present late last November, coinciding with a “surprise visit” by US Ambassador to Yemen, Christopher Henzel, to the province.
Last year Shaikh Ali Al-Harizi, a leader of a local resistance movement in the province, called for an armed uprising against the occupation. In February, Al-Harizi accused British forces of training espionage elements to spy on activist tribesmen. The Saudis are believed to be occupying Mahra in order to gain direct access to the Indian Ocean, with plans to build a pipeline from the kingdom’s Eastern Province to the sea, thereby avoiding dependence on the Strait of Hormuz.