Britain’s hidden war in Yemen

IssueFebruary - March 2023
News by PN staff

After eight years of war, the people of Yemen are enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Oxfam says that ‘24 million people – 80 percent of Yemen’s population – need emergency aid, the greatest number in any country in the world.’

A quarter of the population is malnourished.

There were some signs of hope in January; a new truce may be agreed soon between the Saudi-led coalition and their Houthi opponents.

However, according to one study, there have been over 150,000 direct conflict-related deaths in the war since Saudi Arabia became involved in 2015.

The UN estimates that, by the end of 2021, there had been 377,000 direct and indirect conflict-related deaths in Yemen, including from a lack of health services or water because of the war.

Why is this a British war?

Here’s one reason. According to the Yemen Data Project, there have been 8,983 civilian deaths in Yemen as the result of 25,052 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

These airstrikes were carried out by aircraft sold by the US and Britain, and serviced and maintained by US and British firms.

The weapons that killed these 8,983 Yemeni civilians were made in Britain and the US.

According to new analysis by Oxfam, published on 11 January, at least 87 civilians were killed by Saudi coalition airstrikes using weapons supplied by the UK and US between January 2021 and February 2022.

Martin Butcher, a policy adviser at Oxfam, told the Guardian that there had been 431 airstrikes in the period under study, roughly one a day, and that the ‘intensity of these attacks would not have been possible without a ready supply of arms.’

According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Britain has sold over £23bn of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2015. CAAT’s legal case against British arms sales starts again on 31 January.

Supervising the war

Britain doesn’t just sell weapons.

The ministry of defence (MoD) confirmed in January 2016 that British military advisers were working in the Saudi control rooms which oversee bombing raids in Yemen, giving advice.

In 2018, British researchers Mike Lewis and Katherine Templar discovered that 7,000 employees of UK contractor companies, UK civil servants and seconded UK military personnel, were in Saudi Arabia to support the Saudi security forces.

Thousands of people are there working for companies contracted by the MoD to maintain and service not just the Typhoon and Tornado aircraft Britain has sold to Saudi Arabia, but also the weapons they fire.

The MoD says it has banned these contractors from physically loading weapons onto Saudi aircraft setting off to bomb Yemen... but it is known that they supervise weapons-loading.

Britain has also provided important political and diplomatic support to the Saudi war effort, for example at the UN.

In other news, the UN has hit a new hurdle in its attempts to deal with the FSO Safer, the derelict oil tanker holding over a million barrels of oil just off Yemen’s main port, Hodeidah. Because of the Ukraine War, the cost of a replacement oil tanker (to receive the siphoned-off oil) has gone up 50 percent. The French government has responded by increasing its contribution by €1mn to €2.26mn. (The UK has not changed its pledge of £6mn.) Back in September, a Greenpeace investigation revealed that the oil on the FSO Safer belongs to six large oil companies including ExxonMobil and Total (now TotalEnergies) – none of whom have made any financial contribution to the clear-up, despite the massive profits they’ve enjoyed recently as a result of the Ukraine War.

Topics: Arms trade, Yemen