Britain’s Secret Saudi Military Support Program


by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, Consortium News:

By mistake, the U.K. recently revealed the budget size of a multibillion-pound program that it manages to support the royal family’s de facto protection force, which is also active in the devastating war in Yemen, report Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis.

The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence has mistakenly admitted for the first time the budget size of a multibillion-pound program it manages for the Saudi Arabian royal family’s de facto protection force, which is also active in the devastating war in Yemen.

It can also be revealed that this program, which is embedded in the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) but paid for by the Saudi regime, employs 10 times more people than the British government publicly admits, raising questions about ministers misleading the parliament in Westminster.

The Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project (known as Sangcom) has operated since 1978, when the British government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the authorities in Riyadh. The project provides military communications equipment to the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) but the MOU, which is itself secret, stipulates complete secrecy on the budget.

In July this year, however, the MOD advertised for the position of a Sangcom project manager based in Riyadh. The job was open only to male applicants and the advert stated: “The UK MOD SANGCOM Project Team is responsible for the delivery of a £2bn programme to modernise the Saudi Arabian National Guard’s communications network.”

This is the MOD’s first public acknowledgement of the size of Sangcom’s budget in its 40-year history and such a casual mistake is likely to infuriate its Saudi counterparts. As recently as March 2019, Labour MP Catherine West asked a parliamentary question about the program’s budget and was told that it is “confidential to the two governments.”

It is understood that this £2-billion budget runs for 10 years and was agreed in February 2010. This new phase of the Sangcom project is 15 times larger than the previous agreement, worth £124-million and signed in 2004.

The MOD spends £1.4-billion per year on its own internet-technology and telecommunications systems.

An MOD spokesperson told us: “Information in this job advert was uploaded in error and it was subsequently taken down,” adding, “the budget is confidential to the two governments.”

But, in a further sign of unusually lax information management, the job posting, while being taken down on some sites after the MOD was alerted, is still available on the internet. In addition, Sangcom’s financial controller states on the social network LinkedIn that he is “responsible for a budget of circa £1.6B.”

The White Army

Also known as the White Army, the Saudi Arabian National Guard comprises about 130,000 troops and acts as an internal security force separate from the regular Saudi army. Drawn from tribes loyal to the ruling Saud clan, the SANG’s essential task is to protect the royal family from a coup.

The Sangcom project, alongside Britain’s long-standing military training of the SANG, clearly implicates the U.K. in the defense of the House of Saud, along with the U.S., which is also training and arming it.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard has also been involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created the world’s largest humanitarian disaster, with 24 million people — nearly 80 percent of the population — needing assistance and protection.

Protester marking third anniversary of the U.K.-backed Saudi terror bombing campaign of Yemen, London, March 2018. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In April 2015, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered the SANG to join the Yemen campaign, which until then had been the preserve of the Saudi air force and the regular army. In 2018, a classified French intelligence report noted that two SANG brigades — about 25,000 men — were deployed along the border with Yemen. Major General Frank Muth of the U.S. military also revealed that a SANG brigade, returning from fighting at the border with Yemen, had 19 of its light armored vehicles “shot up pretty badly.”

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