POLITICS
17/05/2018 12:05 BST

UK 'Looking At' Secret Military And Aid Plan To Help Tribes In Yemen, Tory MP Bob Seely Claims

British academic dubbed 'Lauren of Arabia' also urges fresh strategy.

Elisabeth Kendall
British academic and Yemen expert Dr Elisabeth Kendall with al-Mahra tribespeople

Secret plans to provide military and other aid to tribes in Yemen are being considered by the UK, a Tory MP and former British Army officer has claimed.

Blogging for HuffPost UK, MP Bob Seely and academic Elisabeth Kendall said that Whitehall is looking at a new strategy to provide both training and developmental assistance to people in the east of the country where terrorists have exploited the country’s civil war chaos.

Both Seely and Kendall heavily criticised the UK Government’s current policy of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, citing the “moral and political problem” of providing weapons that have fuelled the Gulf state’s civil war.

And with Iran and Saudi Arabia fighting an effective proxy war in Yemen, they called for a new approach that would help support local tribes while reassuring the UK’s traditional ally in neighbouring Oman.

“Whitehall is looking again at a plan for Yemen. We have good reason to do so,” they write.

The UN has described Yemen as ‘the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis’, with more than 10,000 killed and 40,000 injured in its bitter civil war since 2015.

ABDO HYDER via Getty Images
A malnourished Yemeni child awaits treatment at a hospital in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah

With the country on the brink of famine, Labour and campaigners such as Amnesty International have called on Theresa May to end arms sales to the Saudis in protest at the killings of civilians in the conflict.

Yemen, the poorest of the Gulf nations, has been locked into conflict since Iran-backed Houthi rebels forced Saudi-backed President Abdrabbuh Hadi out of the capital Sanaa.

But while most news has focused on the battles in the west of the country, traditional tribespeople in the eastern al-Mahra region have been forgotten, Seely and Kendall argue.

Seely, a former British army captain, was instrumental in writing a strategy paper on Yemen before he became an MP.  Kendall (pictured above), seen by admirers as a modern-day ‘Lauren of Arabia’, is a fluent Arabic speaker who has won round locals with a deep knowledge of their culture and history.

By backing the al-Mahra tribes with Oman’s help, the UK can tackle drug smuggling routes, root out Al-Qaeda and provide a more locally acceptable alternative to the Saudis. Local tribes practice a more liberal form of Islam and are vehemently opposed to the Salafi institutions the Saudis plan to bring to the area.

“We have an interest in helping to solve this conflict… The UK military, with its flexible approach and deep regional ties, has a valuable role working with Oman to assist Yemen’s eastern tribes in their security,” they said.

PA Archive/PA Images
Amnesty protest at thousands of civilians killed in Saudi-led airstrikes

“Despite the UK reneging on its protection treaty in 1967, there is still a sense among the tribes that Britain recognised their traditions of self-governance. This legacy of respect can be used for mutual self-interest.

“Above all, Britain’s experience of full spectrum operations – combining military support with developmental and educational projects – can make a difference.”

Seely added that Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal underscored the need for a proper plan for the future of Yemen

“The partial collapse of the Iran nuclear deal last week is only going to increase dangers for countries like Yemen, where Iran is fighting for influence against Saudi Arabia. This means that a positive role for the UK, the US and other regional states is more important than ever,” he said.

“It’s critical that the UK engages in Yemen in a way that can make a difference. By supporting stability in the east of the country, we can complement the work of Saudi, UAE and the US, as well as reassuring our Omani allies.”

Ministry of Defence sources told HuffPost that there was currently no new strategy that involved support for the tribes in Al-Mahra.

Bob Seely
Tory MP and former British Army captain Bob Seely

A spokesman said: “The UK supports the Saudi-led Coalition military intervention, accepted by the UN Security Council, which came at the request of legitimate President Hadi.

“We condemn the ongoing ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia by Houthi forces which threaten regional security and prolong the conflict and will continue to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to protect its national security.

“Peace talks are the top priority and we are continuing to work hard with the Saudi-led Coalition to reach a political settlement, which is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen. All parties must engage constructively and in good faith to overcome obstacles and find a political solution to end the conflict.”