Media Diversified founder Samantha Asumadu reflects on Britain’s culpability for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the ongoing Yemen war. The United Nations reports that fatalities could reach 1.3 million by 2030

“PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. Get #Yemen trending! It’s a hell on earth right now. Innocent civilians are bombarded in cold blood, while the internet is down. I don’t know what to say else. At least 300 people were killed or wounded over the past 24 hours. I am running out of words…” Afrah Nasser باحثة في الشأن #اليمن/ي. Yemen researcher

It’s not often that an institutional worker (for Human Rights Watch in this case) makes such a clear-cut, loud and unapologetic plea about human rights. It was hard to ignore, and thank God, because it’s not just Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates who are responsible for the state that Yemen currently dangles in, it’s Britain too.

“The involvement of the British state is something that the government ought to make plain to parliament,” David Davis MP, chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on drones, told VICE News. in 2016. He added, “If we know we’re handing intelligence over which will be used in a killing then we ought to be confident that it meets our own rules and guidelines. If there are deaths of civilians there’s a moral and legal problem.”

If this is news to you, it was news to me when I first read, Namir Shabibi and Jack Watling of  Vice News,  exhaustive reporting on SIS – UK’s Secret Intelligence Service — commonly known as MI6 and the Yemen war in 2016. I have come back to their article many times over the years. For some reason at the time it, never went viral, maybe this re-examining of it will.

In 2001 ‘Britain sent two teams: a Maritime Training and Advisory Team of Royal Marines and Navy personnel, tasked with training Yemen’s coastguard to tackle smuggling and piracy, and a Counterterrorism Training Advisory Team’. Colonel Saleh told VICE News that, “It was the British who pushed the Americans to work with us. They provided live ammunition training, ops preparation and information gathering.”

The UK and the United States have worked hand in hand iin Yemen until a falling out in 2012 over ‘rules of engagement’. Britain favoured narrower rules of engagement, forgetting that America always goes big or goes home. Covert is a matter of degrees to them.

The US-led covert war in Yemen, now in its 15th year, has killed up to 1,651 people, including up to 261 civilians, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Four years after the 2012 falling out this is what David Davis MP told VICE News.”If we are providing explicit intelligence to identify individuals who we know the Americans are going to go and kill by drone strike then that’s a kill list”,.

So perhaps the ‘special relationship’ was just as close from 2012 onwards but operational information was now not as readily available to British MPs and the public as more and more collateral deaths stacked up.

In Vice’s article they highlighted that Nabeel Khoury, US deputy chief of mission in Sanaa from 2004 to 2007, wrote in 2013 that, “Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians. Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly 40 to 60 new enemies for every AQAP operative killed by drones.”

In 2012, in 2004, and 2010 and 2014 the Yemen state was unravelling. A ruler who cosied up to Saudi Arabia whilst ignoring the various ethnicities within his own country pleading for democracy led to disastrous consequences for him and his country. The Houthis,  officially called Ansar Allah, are in the main Zaidi Shias and make up about 25% of Muslims in Yemen. They were led by a man named  Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a former member of the Yemeni parliament for the Al-Haqq party between 1993 and 1997 and emerged as an opposition to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh .

They wanted to have a fair distribution of resources and regional funding around the country and particularly where Zaidis make their homes. So whilst the president Ali Abdullah Saleh was happy for Saudi Arabia to build more and more radical Wahhabi mosques and religious institutions and let Saudi Arabia gain more and more influence, the Houthis believed that, “they must actively stand against all forms of political tyranny, just speaking out is not enough” said journalist Robert Carter, journalist in a 2019 report

When Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi was killed in Sa’dah in 2004 the Yemen war started proper, it was no longer just an insurgency. A regional beef gone international at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s then leader King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, who adopted the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Not that anything has changed with subsequent leaders.  King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz acceded to the throne after the death of King Fahd on August 1, 2005. King Salman bin Abdulaziz acceded to the throne after the death of King Abdullah on January 23, 2015.. King Salman Salman was designated Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Yet nothing has changed for Yemen excepted the numbers of dead bodies stacking up.

Responding to the VICE News’ 2016 investigation, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson also told Vice in 2016 that: “The MoD does not comment on special forces operations, or intelligence matters.”. However a Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesperson told them: “We have previously provided counter-terrorism capacity building support to the Yemeni security services to increase their ability to disrupt, detain, and prosecute suspected terrorists in line with Yemeni rule of law and international human rights standards. Following the closure of the Embassy in Sanaa in February 2015 we suspended this activity. We continue to work with regional and international partners to tackle the threat posed by terrorist organizations including AQAP and Daesh-Yemen [using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group] and to build regional capacity on counterterrorism.”

If we go one year back to November 2015, British MP Harriet Harman then chair of the UK’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, speaking to the Royal United Service Institute conference on drones had said “We must look at governance where we hand intelligence to others, such as the US, leading to a strike. “We are culpable in that process.” So what’s the truth? Well that’s something the British state would prefer remain secret.

Fast forward 7 years, a mere 18 years after conflict started and 18 years after Saudi Arabia thought it would have conquered Yemen and its ‘rebels’ the Houthis ‘fired missiles at the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with coalition forces hitting back by blowing up the insurgents’ launchpad as a sharp escalation of hostilities entered a second week on Monday[…] Nobody was hurt in the attack.

UAE have been very bullish in saying they have countered attacks and launched their own. Nobody is backing down, which sounds very male. Then again women have launched drones themselves too. And according to the coptrz.com, ‘It is estimated that the percentage of women drone pilots in the UK is just 4%’  So, we won’t go into gender politics of war except to saying thousands of women have been trapped and killed between these make warring entities. A November 2021 United Nations report has projected that the death toll from Yemen’s war will reach 377,000 by the end of 2021, including those killed as a result of indirect and direct causes. Additionally the hair rising report projects that the number of those killed as a result of Yemen’s war could reach 1.3 million by 2030.

UAE have said  they “ready to deal with any threats” and was “taking all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks”,

NPR have told their readers that it has been a seven-year conflict, that has killed more than 150,000 and displaced millions However this war has been going for far longer than 7 years as I described above, and somewhere along the line Britain has forgotten it’s role in it.

In 2012 Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at human rights NGO Reprieve, which represents the family of Nasser Salim said, “For years, the British government has denied any involvement in the US’s covert drone war in Yemen, saying it’s ‘a matter for the states involved.’ It’s now beyond disputed the UK is one of those states — working hand in glove with the Americans to create the very kill list that drives those strikes. Even more disturbing, 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.”

So, to repeat what Afrah Nasser’ said on January 21st 2022…

And a final word from David Davis from 2015 “Killing people from a clear sky who are guilty of nothing is a very fast way of signing up a lot of people to our enemies.”

A BIG thanks to Namir Shabibi and Jack Watling of  Vice News for if not for them I wouldn’t have even attempted to write this piece drawing heavily on their work.


Sources: – VICE: Britain’s Covert War in Yemen: A VICE News Investigation

The New Arab: Yemen’s Houthi rebels say ‘ready to expand the operation’ as UAE escalation continues

NPR: Yemen’s Houthis have launched two attacks against the U.A.E. — here’s why

Declassified UK newsletter Website: www.declassifieduk.org


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Samantha Asumadu is a former documentary filmmaker and breaking news reporter. She is the founder of Media Diversified. She is a writer and journalist and is currently working on her first two books, The Wannabe and Radical Empathy: The Columnist Class, Egos and Accountability – More info here:Between a Rock, a Hard Place and a Dystopia.

Find her on Twitter @SamanthaAsumadu 

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