The UK trained an air force at the centre of war crime allegations in Yemen how to carry out airstrikes with smart bombs, according to official documents.
The documents also reveal that only a “very very small“ number of airstrikes were tracked and that the UK knew little about the Saudis’ targeting practices or its investigations into war crimes.
Despite being kept in the dark over airstrikes the UK Government claimed last year that there had been no breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by the Saudis.
Laser guided systems for Paveway IV smart bombs are produced at a factory in Fife owned by US arms giant Raytheon.
A coalition of Arab nations led by the Saudis, fighting Houthis in Yemen, has been accused of more than 200 breaches of international humanitarian law.
Many incidents have involved airstrikes.
Allegations include bombing raids on hospitals and schools which have killed hundreds of innocent people including women and children.
The coalition maintains it does not deliberately target civilians.
As a result of mounting claims of war crimes a legal challenge was raised against the UK Government by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
He said: “In the context of their air operations this has included training them in the use of specific precision guided munitions, such as Paveway IV and Storm Shadow, and aircraft.
“In addition, the RAF have provided four International Targeting Courses for RSAF pilots, analysts and other personnel involved in targeting, to improve their targeting processes and support IHL (International Humanitarian Law) compliance.”
There were four courses which ran over three weeks. The first course was in July 2015, the last one in August 2016. Watkins said that 58 people took part.
Last January, the UN said there had been 119 breaches of IHL and that it had uncovered “widespread and systematic” IHL violations which raised questions over the UK’s support for Saudi Arabia.
There are now at least 252 allegations being “tracked” by the government.
The latest atrocity came when a funeral was bombed a few days ago near Sanaa when nine people were killed along with a child. Dozens of people were injured including two babies.
Another government document dated 12th February 2016 reveals ministers had no idea if all the Saudi’s targets were military. The government was aware of 156 war crime allegations at the time.
It says: “MOD is responsible for monitoring allegations of IHL violations in Yemen. As part of our assessment of the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign we cannot confirm a military target for the majority of strikes assessed to have been carried out by the coalition.”
It goes on: “We believe that Saudi deliberate targeting processes are broadly compliant with IHL but we have less insight into Saudi dynamic targeting processes. We need to have a better understanding of why civilian casualties have occurred, including seeing the results of Saudi investigations into incidents of concern.”
However, in February 2016 the Foreign Office said that ministers had assessed that Saudi Arabia was not in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
Furthermore, in a reply to a freedom of information request by The Ferret dated 23rd February 2016, the Foreign Office said: “We have provided training courses and advice and guidance in the UK and Saudi Arabia. This is part of our longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia and helps us to ensure the continued compliance of Saudi officers with International Humanitarian Law.”
The government later retracted six statements saying it had assessed claims of war crimes amid claims it had been misleading.
In response to the above there have been renewed calls for an end to UK arms sales to the Saudis.
Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ external affairs spokesperson, said: “These revelations have shown that the UK government is more complicit than we suspected in the war crimes Saudi Arabia is committing in Yemen. We know beyond any doubt that Saudi jets have targeted schools, hospitals, funerals and even ambulances, often striking again once rescuers have arrived. And we know they’ve been doing this with missiles systems built in Scotland and sold to them by the UK.
Greer continued and said: “Now we know our bloodstained involvement goes a step further. UK military personnel have trained the Saudis in using these missile systems and we’re not even tracking what they bomb.”
He added: “Civilians, including thousands of children are starving and dying in Yemen and the UK is not only providing the weapons systems used to do it, we’re training the Saudi military in how to use them.
“The arms sales need to end now, military cooperation and training with Saudi Arabia needs to end now and an enquiry needs to start immediately into how the UK could be so involved in what potentially amounts to staggering war crimes in Yemen.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “We are always hearing about the precautions that Saudi forces are supposedly taking, buf if that’s the case then why are they bombing schools and hospitals? Why have market places and funerals become the sites of massacres? Saudi forces have killed thousands of people, and the UK government has been complicit every step of the way.”
Douglas Chapman MP, of the SNP, said: “I’ve been involved in the parliamentary process for monitoring arms sales to Saudi for over a year now, and my support for a ban – until an independent review has taken place – has always been clear.
“From the very start, when concerns were raised about UK involvement with the Saudi military, MPs have always been given assurances that it was only by working with the Saudis that a change in their practices could be affected.
“What this evidence clearly shows is the UK Government admitting that it has nothing like the influence it claims and it’s time to end the charade. On this damning evidence we need to see arms sales to Saudi Arabia halted now until a fully independent UN-led inquiry is held into these serious allegations.”
In reply to the above criticism, the UK Government said: “The UK is playing a leading role in work to find a political solution to the conflict in Yemen and to address the humanitarian crisis.
“We operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review. Given the current legal proceedings we will not be commenting further at this stage.”
Regarding the funeral strike, the UK Government said: “It is important that the Coalition in the first instance conducts thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where it is alleged that international humanitarian law has been breached. We welcome the fact the coalition has confirmed it is investigating the incident.”
Raytheon and the Saudi Embassy in London declined to comment.
An abridged version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 19th February 2017.