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Middle East

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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22.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many officers and men of the British armed forces are currently serving with the armed forces of other countries in the Middle East; and for what purpose.

There are 429 volunteers from Her Majesty's forces serving on loan to the armed forces of countries in the Middle East in training, advisory and executive positions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I entirely support the role of the armed forces in the Middle East, in so far as they are involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations and in other operations under the authority of the United Nations? Is he aware, however, that I do not support in any sense the involvement of British armed forces in foreign civil wars such as in Oman? Will my right hon. Friend put an end to that involvement?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the first part of his remarks. I indicated that these volunteers were active in six different Middle Eastern countries, including Oman. I am aware of the feelings of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members about our activity there, but it has been long-standing practice to allow loan volunteers to friendly nations, especially to help in training, advisory and executive positions, and this we are continuing to do. The matter may well be covered in the Defence White Paper.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that our forces in Oman are there at the request of the Sultan, and that this so-called civil war would collapse in a matter of weeks if it were not fomented on the side of the so-called rebels from South Yemen?

There are bound to be two sides in a conflict. I agree partly with what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not want to deal specifically with Oman, because that would be to pre-empt a Question on that country which appears on the Order Paper.