At least five British Special Forces commandos have been wounded in gun battles as part of a top-secret UK military campaign in Yemen, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The elite Special Boat Service (SBS) troops, whose presence in the war-ravaged country is shrouded in secrecy, suffered gunshot injuries in fierce clashes with Iranian-backed rebel militia in recent months. The SBS men were treated for leg and arm wounds following the battles in the Sa’dah area of northern Yemen, where up to 30 crack British troops are based. The casualties are understood to be now recovering in the UK.
The revelation that British forces are fighting in Yemen sparked angry criticism last night because the conflict, which has seen Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposing sides in a four-year civil war, has triggered the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Aid agencies have pleaded for a ceasefire to be negotiated to enable charities to help eight million Yemenis facing starvation and two million rendered homeless. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
The Mail on Sunday can also reveal how RAF engineers sent to Saudi Arabia to repair the kingdom’s fleet of military aircraft narrowly escaped death last week. Iranian-backed rebels launched a ‘suicide drone’ strike on the King Khalid airbase, where they are maintaining Tornado jets used to bomb civilian areas in Yemen.
According to reports, the drone exploded on the runway, destroying two Tornados. The MoD said no UK personnel were wounded.
An SBS source said: ‘The guys are fighting in an inhospitable desert and mountainous terrain against highly committed and well-equipped Houthi rebels. The SBS’s role is mainly training and mentoring but on occasions, they have found themselves in firefights and some British troops have been shot.
‘In a contact a few weeks ago, an SBS guy was shot in the hand and another guy was shot in the leg. Their injuries were a reminder that this is a very dangerous assignment. Obviously, nothing about the mission will be confirmed publicly by the Ministry of Defence unless a UK soldier is killed – they’d have to announce that.’
The SBS mentoring teams inside Yemen include medics, translators and Forward Air Controllers (FACs), whose job is to request air support from the Saudis.
The 200-strong SBS, which is based at Poole in Dorset, is a maritime Special Forces unit and was founded in 1940. It recruits mainly from the Royal Marines. SBS personnel served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently in operations against Islamic State in Syria.