By Tim Hepher
DUBAI (Reuters) – The head of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force on Wednesday dismissed charges that Arab coalition air power caused regular civilian casualties in Yemen’s war, saying warplanes used precision weapons and raids needed multiple approvals.
Amnesty International has asked the United Nations to investigate allegations that humanitarian law has been broken during the seven-month-old war, in which U.N. figures show more than 5,600 people have been killed.
The human rights group has said the vast majority of civilian casualties in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition. It has said that violations of international humanitarian law have also been committed by the Iranian-allied Houthis, the coalition’s adversary in the conflict.
In an interview with Reuters at the Dubai Airshow, Major-General Ibrahim Nasser Al Alawi said coalition planes had complete command of the skies and so could focus their efforts on supporting ground forces fighting the Houthis.
“As an air power player in the allied forces we are running almost 98 percent precision (weapons) and with small calibers, especially when it comes to civilian areas like cities,” he said, in a rare public comment by a senior coalition officer.
“I can say there are three to four different layers for approving these targets, just to make sure that civilians (are unharmed) – and going with a small caliber you are really controlling collateral damage.”
“We are a professional air force, the Saudis the same, the allied forces they are all the same.”
Saudi Arabia has since March led the campaign to restore state authority after Houthi fighters took control of much of Yemen a year ago. The UAE is a leading member of the coalition, which won control of the skies in the first few days of the war.
Britain said on Tuesday it would halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia if investigations found Riyadh had breached international humanitarian law in the Yemen war.
Alawi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence, said coalition warplanes were helping ground forces to try to take the capital Sanaa and other major cities from the Houthis.
“The whole airspace belongs to the allied forces … so militarily I don’t think you can ask much more than that,” he said. “Now it is up to the Yemenis to recapture their cities like the capital Sanaa or Saada and practise their government.”