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BRITAIN has sent hundreds of Royal Air Force (RAF) troops to Saudi Arabia for a joint military drill despite international calls for Westminster to cut ties with the brutal monarchy.
Around 200 troops and eight Typhoon jets are taking part in the “pre-planned” defensive drill as part of a series of engagements with Middle Eastern allies.
The drill has sparked an outcry with rights groups calling on Britain to cut military ties and arms trading with the Saudi regime following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, and its “catastrophic” war on Yemen which has killed tens of thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands more on the brink of starvation.
Claims by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be modernising the country have been derided by activists who point out Saudi Arabia still punishes “crimes” including homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy and even witchcraft with death.
The Green Flag exercise, a military term for air-land training, began yesterday at King Fahd Air Base in Taif to help the Royal Saudi Air Forces (RSAF) maintain their “combat readiness.” The exercises are due to end on December 11.
Commander of the air base Major General Haidar bin Rafie Al-Omari said Green Flag was a critical part of this year’s training plan for the RSAF and involves all air force combat systems supporting the Kingdom’s Operation Decisive Storm and Operation Restoring Hope in Yemen.
Previous drills between Britain and Saudi Arabia were held at RAF Lossiemouth in 2007 and RAF Coningsby in 2013 to “build on historic ties.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has said the drills should be seen within the context of an “increasing close relationship” between Britain and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).
A British government delegation met the GCC secretariat in Riyadh on October 31, to discuss “expanding the horizons of political, security, military and commercial co-operation.”
Saudi Arabia is not the only Gulf country British forces are training with.
As part of a series of routine defence engagements with allies across the Middle East over the last few months, Apache attack helicopters and more than 4,000 tri-service personnel trained with the Omani military in October.
CAAT’s Andrew Smith said the drills were a “stark reminder” of the government's complicity in the bombardment of Yemen.
He told the Star: “The military training is part of a much bigger political and military relationship between the government and the Saudi dictatorship.
“It is a relationship that has helped to prop up the regime and has had catastrophic results for the people of Yemen.
“The Saudi-led coalition has inflicted the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world on Yemen, but that’s done nothing to stop the arms sales or end Britain’s military support and collaboration with Saudi forces."
Britain has licensed £4.7 billion’s worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war in Yemen in 2015, making the kingdom the biggest buyer of British weapons.
Around 56,000 people have died in the Yemen conflict and the country faces the world’s worst famine in 100 years.
Stop the War’s Chris Nineham said: “This is further evidence of Britain’s complicity in, not just supporting Saudi Arabia at a time when it’s conducting a murderous war on Yemen, but also actively taking part in military operations.
“It is also one more reason why British foreign policy must change now.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told the Star that Britain has “vital national security interests” in maintaining its relationship with Saudi Arabia.
They added: “The long-standing partnership between the UK and Saudi Arabia has helped make both of our countries safer. As the Foreign Secretary has said, ‘so much depends on this relationship’ including British security and British jobs.”
Activists put up a blue plaque outside the Department for International Trade, Defence and Security Organisation office in London on Monday during a candle-lit vigil to call for the end to the arming of the Saudi regime.
We just stuck this plaque on the UK government office where arms sales to #Saudi are promoted.
— Sam Walton (@SamWalton) November 26, 2018
The plaque highlights the cost of the licensing as well as the government’s involvement in the war.
Human rights campaigner Sam Watson called the British government “war criminals” and said the public must know of its complicity.
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