By Andrew Redmond Barr
Westminster parliamentary questions raised by SNP MP Angus Robertson have revealed that senior figures of the oppressive Syrian military were trained in Britain at the expense of UK taxpayers.
Although UK-Syrian cooperation has recently been halted amid violence in the region it has come to light that the Ministry of Defence actively trained members of President al-Assad’s Army in Britain in at least 8 of the last 10 years.
Senior military figures as highly ranked as Colonels were trained by the MoD, many of whom will now be playing a key role in oppressing democratic reform in Syria. All of this training took place under the previous Labour government and UK taxpayers paid £126,900 towards the cost.
The UN has accused the Syrian military of deliberately massacring civilians and seriously violating international humanitarian law. In one incident alone in May this year 108 people, including 49 children, were killed in the Houla Region.
Mr Robertson said he did not question the sincerity of the UK’s condemnation of events but criticised the decision to give a known dictatorship military training.
“It is sickening to think that senior military commanders behind the Syrian bloodshed were trained in the UK courtesy of the MoD,” he said.
“While I do not doubt the sincerity of current Ministers in their condemnation of events in Syria, there is a terrible paradox that the UK Government has played, until recently, a key role in training the Syrian military leaders.
“We used to hear a lot of talk about ethical foreign policies – until the disastrous, illegal war in Iraq – and these revelations further call into question the judgement of the previous Labour government.
“How on earth does giving military training to a dictator strengthen international security and co-operation?
“The UK Government keeps making really bad decisions on defence. With independence we can make better defence and foreign policy decisions in Scotland, and not leave it to London.”
The report also reveals that Bahraini, Yemeni and Egyptian military personnel had been trained in the UK each year for the last nine years. Libyan personnel had received 4 years of British training over the same period.
Only months before the Arab Spring began in the Middle East, Britain was also exporting a substantial number of weapons, guns, ammunition, and crowd control equipment such as teargas to Libya, Egypt and Bahrain.
The UK government halted most exports amid violence but resumed arms sales to Bahrain despite protests still being suppressed.
Earlier this year, UK business secretary Vince Cable when giving evidence to the Commons committee on arms export controls, admitted: “We do trade with governments that are not democratic and have bad human rights records … we do business with repressive governments and there’s no denying that.”