United Kingdom: Report Reveal that Special Forces and MI6 Involved in Yemen Bombing

UK special forces and MI6 involved in Yemen bombing, report reveals

Britain’s MI6 and special forces have played a crucial and sustained role in covert US-led counter terrorism operations in Yemen. Their role has included identifying targets for drone strikes, according to a detailed, in-depth, investigation.

Drone strikes are particularly controversial because they have been responsible for civilian deaths in Yemen. 

The disclosures are not entirely surprising. Britain has had a long and close diplomatic and intelligence relationship with Yemen, which borders on Britain’s chief ally in the region, Saud Arabia.

What is significant – and for British parliamentarians and journalists, frustrating – is that the detailed disclosures are the result of report by a US-based current affairs channel, Vice News. 

It would have been much more difficult to get British officials to talk here, given the official blanket ban on comments about special forces operations or intelligence matters.

“The British have been in Gulf states for decades. They have a reservoir of knowledge, contacts, and expertise that is very important,” a former senior CIA official, responsible for operations in Yemen, told Vice News. “If you look at what capabilities each side has, that starts to tell you something about precisely where the actionable intelligence is coming from.”

Once the official secret was outed, some Britons were apparently encouraged to talk. “Our station people were pretty shit-hott”, said one.

British personnel serving in Yemen said the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (a special forces unit), seconded to MI6, were responsible for training Yemen forces fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP).

Secondment also allowed British military personnel to help with the drone strikes, but under the aegis of intelligence operations controlled by the Foreign Office, which is responsible for MI6, according to the Vice News report.

All this made their presence deniable by the UK Ministry of Defence which in 2014 told human rights group Reprieve: “The UK does not provide any military support to the US campaign of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) strikes on Yemen.”

Reprieve said the investigation appeared to contradict years of denials by the UK about involvement in US operations in Yemen. “Even more disturbing”, said Jen Gibson, a Reprieve lawyer, “the UK has copied wholesale the US model of outsourcing the military to the intelligence agencies in order to hide their involvement and avoid any accountability.”

The Vice News report appears to contradict David Cameron’s comment in the Commons in January that British “personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and we’re not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.”

Unless, of course, by “are not involved” he, or those drafting his parliamentary answers, meant “not at that very moment” and that the denial referred specifically and only to anti-Houthi operations, not anti-AQAP ones.

On a trip to London in January, the Saudi foreign minister said British and American military officials were in the command and control centre for Saudi air strikes on Yemen, and had access to lists of targets. However, he said they do not play any role in choosing them.

What is clear in all this fog is that British spooks and special forces have been very active in Yemen, without our knowledge.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch warned in a report on Monday of the need to maintain human control over weapons systems and ban fully autonomous weapons, known as “killer robots”. 


© 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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