Dubai: The head of the 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 UN figures show more than 5,600 people have been killed.
The human rights group has also said violations of international humanitarian law have also been committed by the Iranian-allied Al Houthis, the coalition’s adversary in the conflict.
In an interview at the Dubai Airshow, Major-General Ebrahim Nasser Al Alawi said coalition planes had complete command of the skies and so could focus their efforts on supporting ground forces fighting Al Houthis.
“As an air power player in the allied forces we are running almost 98 per cent precision (weapons) and with small calibres, 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 civilians (are unharmed) — and going with a small calibre 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 Al 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 Sana’a and other major cities from Al 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 Sana’a or Saada and practise their government.”