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Although the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has yet to confirm it, the Sun reports that around two dozen air defence specialists, equipped with state-of-the-art drone destroying missiles, are set to be deployed to Riyadh in the coming weeks. British soldiers have been working with Saudi Arabian authorities for both training and special operations to protect targeted oil infrastructures.
Drones controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been used in attacks against Saudi oil fields.
Ministers say UK armed forces have provided at least 42 training modules for Saudi forces since 2018, including in air warfare, officer training, and electronic warfare.
According to a 2020 investigation by the Declassified UK website, British personnel are stationed across 15 sites in Saudi Arabia.
The UK offered its help and sent 25 troops after two Saudi Aramco oil-processing facilities were targeted by a drone strike, causing significant damage and temporarily disrupting the production of oil in September 2019.
A year later, London sent in more troops without the knowledge of parliament or the public.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence explained at the time: “Following the attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities on 14 September 2019, we have worked with the Saudi Ministry of Defence and wider international partners to consider how to strengthen the defence of its critical economic infrastructure from aerial threats.”
The spokesperson confirmed that the deployment had included an advanced military radar system to help detect drone strikes, but would not be drawn on “exact timescales or the numbers of personnel involved due to operational security.”
The Ministry of Defence said the oil fields are “critical economic infrastructure” and that gunners from the 16th Regiment Royal Artillery were needed to help defend them against drone strikes.
In lieu of just radars, the upcoming squad will reportedly be armed with cutting-edge Martlet missiles which can shoot down swarming drones.
“This is a change in capability,” a defence source told The Sun.
“The Saudis want us there because they like the UK standing with them.”
The MoD said: “No decisions have been made on future air defence deployments to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who are a valued partner and essential to supporting the national security of the UK.”
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British Government faced criticism when it was revealed that troops were sent to work hand in hand with Saudi Arabia even though its ruler Mohammed bin Salman was accused of killing thousands of civilians in the war in neighbouring Yemen and the CIA said he ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson told The Independent: “The reports that the government have secretly been deploying troops to Saudi Arabia are shocking.
“Not only is this government selling the Saudi government arms to use against civilians in Yemen, but deploying troops to defend Saudi oil fields, reveals just how absent this government’s moral compass truly is.”
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: “There are big questions about this operation and why UK forces were deployed, but the entire relationship needs to be scrutinised.
“Despite the decades of abuses that have been inflicted on Saudi people, and the war crimes and atrocities committed against Yemen, the Saudi regime has always been able to rely on the uncritical political and military support of Downing Street.”
Defence Minister James Heappey confirmed in a statement in 2020 that the deployment was still “ongoing as of late November and had so far cost UK taxpayers £840,360.”
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