British forces are providing training to Bahrain’s armed forces on using sniper rifles, a report says, amid Manama’s heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful anti-regime protests.
Elite troops from the Royal Navy’s 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group are running week-long training courses for Bahraini soldiers, the British daily The Independent has reported.
The most recent military training session took place in January during a visit by British special commandos to the tiny Persian Gulf state, according to the report.
The training was provided on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans, which docked at HMS Juffair, Britain’s naval base in Bahrain.
UK forces trained “multiple groups” of Bahraini personnel and were “awarded” Bahraini sniper badges in return.
Bahraini authorities have demanded that the elite snipers return to provide military training for new recruits.
London has been a staunch ally of the Al Khlifa regime. The UK government has approved more than 45 million pounds (63.5 million dollars) worth of arms sales to Manama since the 2011 popular uprising inside Bahrain against the regime.
Bahraini protesters take part in a demonstration to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising against the Al Khalifah regime, in Sitra, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo by AFP)
The Manama regime has been cracking down on political dissent with military help most notoriously from Saudi Arabia, which has overtly deployed forces to Bahrain.
Emily Thornberry, British Labour’s shadow defense secretary, warned that the sniper skills trained may be “deployed against the civilian population of the country.”
Andy Slaughter, the shadow human rights minister, also said that he was “dismayed” to see that the British government holds Bahrain to a lower standard than other countries when it comes to human rights.
“It seems there is a completely different level of scrutiny for Bahrain compared to other repressive regimes. This can only be linked to our very strong military ties,” Slaughter said.
Furthermore, Andrew Smith, of the Campaign against Arms Trade, a UK-based organization working to end the international arms trade, described the training activity as a symptom of the “toxic relationship” between the two countries.
“Despite the ongoing crackdown, the UK charm offensive in Bahrain is continuing unabated. It’s not just arms and training that are a major cause of concern; it’s also the uncritical political back-scratching and military integration that has gone with it,” Smith said.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said Britain was “providing training to brutal and unaccountable [Bahraini] security services.”
Anti-regime demonstrators have been holding rallies on the streets of Bahrain since the beginning of the 2011 uprising, calling on the ruling family to relinquish power. The regime has killed scores of anti-regime protesters and handed down long-term sentences to activists.