'Censored videos show' Saudi pilots training on UK sites

'Censored videos show' Saudi pilots training on bombing runs in Britain
3 min read
11 September, 2020
The UK's Ministry of Defence is refusing to release footage of the training of Saudi military pilots, saying it would reveal their 'effectiveness and capability'.
Saudi pilots are trained to fly Hawk jets in the UK [NurPhoto /Getty)
The participation of Saudi fighter pilots in air training attacks on British soil has been documented in footage that the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is refusing to release.

Fighter pilots from Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United Kingdom, have been allowed to conduct "air-to-ground training sorties" in the UK, Declassified revealed on Friday.

This is despite Saudi Arabia's engagement in a proxy war in Yemen that has created what has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Details of the training programme were obtained by Declassified through a freedom of information request submitted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

But the ministry has refused to release footage of the training, saying it would reveal the "effectiveness and capability" of the pilots. 

The censured videos show "the impact of the air-to-ground attacks, such as how much damage they can initiate," the ministry said, making them unsuitable for release. 

According to Declassified, the MoD "requested the consent" of the Saudi air force "about releasing information on RSAF pilots".

The request to release the videos was denied before Saudi Arabia had "provided their views on the matter".

'Devastating impact'

The RAF has trained over a hundred pilots over the past decade and as recently as July, according to Declassified.

Campaign Against the Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith told Declassified that "UK-trained Saudi pilots have had a devastating impact on Yemen, where they are flying UK-made fighter jets and dropping UK-made bombs".

Calling for the training footage to be released, he said: "We should have every right to see these videos and to know the full details of what training is being done in our name and on UK soil."

"The fact that these tapes will expose how much damage these weapons can initiate is precisely why they must be made available, because these weapons are being used right now in Yemen, and the impact has been terrible."

The UK is a key supplier of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia despite the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen standing accused of violating international humanitarian law.

Approximately a third of the training undertaken by Saudi pilots in the UK occurs at an RAF valley in north Wales, where they learn to fly the Hawk jet. 

Saudi military pilots also use dozens of civilian airports in the UK as practice sites. 

'Whose hands is the blood really on?'

Rather than supplying an exact list of sites used by Saudi pilots, the MoD released a list of 25 civilian airfields that "may have been used during [the] flying training" of Saudi pilots.

This list includes cities which are home to established Yemeni communities - such as Cardiff and Liverpool. 

British-Yemeni lawyer Rehab Jaffer, who hails from Liverpool, told Declassified: "They are conducting 'training' exercises only a few miles away from the relatives of those they seem to be targeting in Yemen – with UK supplied arms."

"If we arm them and bring them here to train them, whose hands is the blood of Yemeni civilians really on?"

The UK announced in July it will resume its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite outcry over the devastating civilian death toll caused by the Riyadh-led military campaign in Yemen.

Read more: Will UAE-Israel deal draw Tel Aviv into Yemen's war?

A court ruling last year found it "unlawful" for the government to have allowed the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in 

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict, which was exacerbated in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition militarily intervened to fight the rebels.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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