UK Special Forces team allegedly deployed to Yemen to hunt for suspects in Mercer Street tanker attack

A Special Air Service (SAS) team has arrived in Yemen to hunt down those allegedly responsible for launching a recent drone attack against the Israeli-operated tanker off the coast of Oman, the Daily Express reported.

A team of 40 Special Forces soldiers arrived to eastern Yemen on Saturday, the paper claimed on Sunday. The team supposedly includes an electronic warfare unit capable of intercepting communications and is tasked with hunting down the group that is supposedly behind the attack on the Mercer Street tanker in late June.

The soldiers would also rely on local handlers, who received payment from the Foreign Office, the paper said, adding that London apparently believes that Iran-backed Houthi rebels carried out the attack with support from Tehran.

“Everything points to the drone being launched from Yemen. The concern now is that an extended range drone will give them a new capability,” a British military source told the Daily Express.

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The paper also said, citing purported US and Israeli intelligence, that the suicide drone that killed two people onboard the tanker was launched from Eastern Yemen and directed via GPS towards the vessel while a human operator controlled it for the final mile.

The UK’s SAS team is working together with an American Special Operations force that is already in Yemen, the paper said, adding that the Americans have been training an elite Saudi commando unit there.

The Daily Express did not name its sources and the UK officials did not confirm the operation, which is supposedly still ongoing. London, Washington and Tel Aviv accused Tehran of being behind the attack on an Israeli-operated tanker that claimed the life of a British security guard and a Romanian captain.

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FILE PHOTO: The Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime that was attacked off Oman coast. © / Johan Victor / Handout via REUTERS
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Iran repeatedly denied the accusations and vowed a “strong” response to any threats, as the UK and the US stated they were working on a “response”  against Tehran, but stopped short of officially announcing any specific steps.

Israel’s defense minister said earlier this week that his nation is ready to strike Iran as tensions in the region remain high.

The presence of British soldiers on the Yemeni soil would hardly be anything new, though. Reports about the UK commandos being injured in one of the fights of the protracted civil war date back to as early as 2019. A unit of the Special Boat Service saw some of its commandos injured in an alleged gun battle in the Sa’dah area of northern Yemen, according to the media.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition is supporting the Yemeni government of the president Mansur Hadi against the Shiite Houthi rebels backed by Iran. The coalition led by Riyadh has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations in Yemen – partly due to indiscriminate bombings that often claim lives of civilians.

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The UK troops, however, do not take part in this conflict, at least officially. London repeatedly stated it was not a “party to the war,” although the British defense industry was actively supplying the Saudis with arms and ammunition. In the five years of the Yemeni war between 2015 and 2020, the leading British arms manufacturer BAE Systems reportedly sold £15 billion ($20.27 billion) worth of arms, training and other services to Saudi armed forces.

In July, it was revealed that London maintains a covert detachment of soldiers in Yemen. The troops had been training Saudi forces since at least the start of 2021. They were stationed at the Al-Ghaydah airport in al-Mahrah, Yemen’s far eastern governorate.

The place was earlier described by the Human Rights Watch as an informal detention facility, where people were tortured. Another report said that around 30 British soldiers were stationed there.

British air defense teams have also been deployed to Saudi Arabia to man Giraffe radars that track Houthi drones and rockets since at least February 2020.

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