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Yemen War Room: ITV News granted rare access

In the first of two reports from Saudi Arabia, ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo gains rare access to a control room where the Saudi-led coalition is bombing rebels in Yemen.

I’m inside 'mission control' for the Saudi-led coalition bombing rebels in Yemen.

On a bank of flickering screens, a fighter jet labelled 'FRIEND' is tracked as it crosses the border.

Television screens show mosques, hospitals and United Nations facilities inside Yemen - the locations that airstrikes must avoid.

Officers from across the Middle East pace down the corridors outside the 'war room' - the so-called "kitchen of the coalition" - from where bombing raids are monitored.

A display panel in the 'mission control' room. Credit: ITV News

Inside, it looks exactly as you might imagine: except for one aspect.

Three foreigners sit behind a glass screen at the back of the room. They are 'liaison officers', my Saudi government guide tells me. One is British, two are American. The union flag and Stars and Stripes are draped behind their desks.

"We have contracts with those countries because we have platforms from them, so we have training, we have supervising and we have evaluation [from them]" said Major General Ahmed al-Asiri, one of their Saudi hosts.

British officers are not involved in carrying out airstrikes, but are there to 'provide the UK with greater insight into Saudi processes and operations', according to Whitehall officials.

Inside 'mission control'. Credit: ITV News

Their presence in the room from where Yemeni targets are being struck is a symbol of the UK’s close relationship with the leading coalition power in this unending conflict.

But Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes, and some British MPs have called for an arms embargo.

The Saudis admit that British cluster bombs have been used "in limited areas" during this conflict.

It had previously denied that the bombs, purchased in the 1980s, were used in the war. The devices shower an area with smaller 'bomblets' which can explode on impact.

"It was used and we published the information. It was used and we provided this to the UK government" said Major General al-Asiri. "But what does this change in the situation? It was used to protect our sovereignty" he added.

An armed guard, photographed outside the facility. Credit: ITV News

This is an important detail for British authorities.

The UK is a signatory to a 2010 international treaty banning the use of cluster munitions. The convention commits the UK to disposing of cluster munitions. Saudi Arabia is not a signatory.

Saudi officials say it has been defending itself against an illegitimate rebel movement which is supported by Iran, its regional enemy. They believe they have been unfairly stigmatised by some British parliamentarians for supporting a legitimate government in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia denies the most serious allegations against them. But in a war with no winners and apparently no end in sight, Britain is not merely an 'ally'.

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