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Air force accused of war crimes in Yemen using Scots airports to train pilots

© Hani Mohammed/AP/ShutterstockA boy hurt in 2018 bombing of bus in Yemen
A boy hurt in 2018 bombing of bus in Yemen

An air force accused of war crimes in Yemen are using civilian airports in Scotland to train their pilots.

Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) pilots based in Lincolnshire for training are allowed to land at 25 civilian airfields in the UK including Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Wick and Prestwick.

Saudi Arabia is one of the UK’s closest military allies and the RAF is supporting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

But the RSAF has been accused of conducting airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen including schools, hospitals and weddings, prompting demands that its access to Scots airports is stopped.

The Yemen Data Project estimates that at least 18,500 civilians have been killed or injured in airstrikes since Yemen’s war began in 2015.

The RSAF – which relies on UK training and support for its bombing campaign in Yemen – fly UK-made warplanes that drop so-called smart bombs, with parts made in Scotland.

RAF pilots fire Paveway missiles at Garve Island, off Sutherland

Saudi pilots stationed at RAF Valley and RAF Cranwell, in Lincolnshire, can use civilian airfields in Scotland during flying lessons. They are being allowed to conduct air-to-ground sorties.

The Saudis have also been trained in the UK to use Paveway IV smart bombs, whose guidance systems are made by US arms firm Raytheon at its factory in Glenrothes, Fife.

A video on YouTube shows RAF pilots testing Paveway IV bombs on Garve Island off the coast of northern Scotland during training exercises.

Various versions of the Paveway have been linked to casualties in Yemen, including 27 deaths in 2018 when a bus carrying civilians and schoolchildren was destroyed from the air.

Critics of the Saudis’ access to Scots airports include Douglas Chapman, SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife.

He said: “The UK has been involved in training and supporting Saudi military personnel and operations for some time. The UK has also attracted severe criticism for playing fast and loose with international arms control regulations with bombs and missiles supplied by the UK to Saudi which have then been targeted on the civilian population in war-torn Yemen.

“The reports that the MoD is using Scottish civilian airports to support these operations is another example of a UK Government not only prepared to break international law but appears relaxed to adopt a way of working which most reasonably-minded people would find morally repugnant.”

© Hani Mohammed/AP/Shutterstock
Wreckage after an airstrike in Yemen

Neil Findlay, Labour MSP, said: “It is deeply concerning Saudi pilots are using Scottish airports for training exercises. People across Scotland will be appalled.”

Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Jamie Stone MP said: “The situation in Yemen is horrific, with Saudi Arabia accused of violating human rights and the rule of law. Permission to land at civilian airfields in the UK should be rescinded and arms sales to the regime should be banned until further notice. The Conservative government’s willingness to partner with regimes whose actions have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths is deeply shameful.”

Emma Cockburn, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The Saudi Air Force has inflicted a terrible humanitarian catastrophe on the people of Yemen. We already knew that the Saudi forces are using bombs made here in Scotland, but it is shocking to discover that the pilots responsible may have been trained here as well.

“Boris Johnson and his colleagues are always telling us that they want to build a ‘global Britain’ that champions human rights, but they are responsible for arming, supporting and training human rights abusing regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia. The Scottish Government must condemn this training and call on Downing Street to ensure Scottish sites are never used again. As long as bombs made in Fife are being used by pilots trained in our airports, Scotland is contributing to the suffering in Yemen.”

Highlands and Island Airports Limited – which runs 11 airports in Scotland including Dundee, Inverness and Wick – declined to comment. Aberdeen Airport and Prestwick Airport did not reply to our requests for a comment.

The Scottish Government declined to comment and referred The Sunday Post to the Civil Aviation Authority, who said it had “no role to play in this”.

According to the United Nations, the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing in Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The UK has given £1 billion in aid to Yemen, but has licensed £6.5 billion worth of arms to countries bombing it including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

The UK Government said: “The UK is doing all it can to help end the devastating conflict by putting our weight behind the UN-led peace process.

“Both UK and foreign pilots under training routinely utilise a variety of airspace and airports across the UK depending on the stage of their training.”