Both soldiers were in a 12-man coalition taskforce which flew into the wartorn country three weeks ago. The SAS is working alongside members of Operational Detachment Alpha, the primary fighting force for the Green Berets. Under US command, the heavily armed Special Forces team flew into Aden from Djibouti aboard a UAE Chinook helicopter and met UAE commanders before heading north-east in unmarked pick-up trucks. A large part of the east of country is controlled by anti-government Houthi rebels, including the vital port of Hudaydah – where Saudi Arabia has prevented humanitarian vessels landing supplies.
The soldiers were dressed in Arab clothing and were tasked with locating drop zones for food and medical supplies which can be easily accessed by desperate locals.
The unit is said to have been operating near the government-held town of Marib, 500 miles north of Aden, when one of the pickups they were travelling in was caught in a blast, triggered when the vehicle in front drove over a land mine.
Both soldiers sustained leg injuries and were evacuated in a UAE helicopter to the US military base in Djibouti, a small coastal nation on the Horn of Africa located across the Gulf of Aden.
They were later flown back to the UK via Cyprus and were last night said to be recovering from their wounds.
Three weeks ago five engineers – two South Africans, a Croatian, a Bosnian and a Kosovan – were killed and a Briton injured when their vehicle also hit a mine at Marib.
The devices were believed to be planted by the Houthi, which is battling the Saudibacked government. Last night it was stressed that, though armed, Special Forces are not taking part in combat operations.
“The soldiers are armed to protect themselves but not to engage Houthis or any other factions,” said military sources.
“The issue is that this country is on the edge of famine. This unit’s task was to identify areas for a drop, and secure people on the ground we can deal with should the green light be given for food and medical aid drops.
“This is a region filled with land mines and improvised explosive devices, and the intelligence we are gathering is vital not only for any future air drops but also to transport aid should Hudaydah reopen.”
Contingency plans for food drops in Yemen come amid UN warnings of a famine.
On Thursday Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt attended a high-level meeting in Warsaw in which he built support for a ceasefire and increasing aid to the country, ravaged by war since 2011.
In his meeting with the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE officials, Mr Hunt secured an agreement for a “comprehensive solution” to the conflict.
Britain is designated by the UN as “pen-holder” to Yemen – meaning it is in charge of drafting and tabling Security Council resolutions – because of its historical links with the country.
The issue of how to deliver aid will be addressed again in a UN multinational meeting in Geneva on February 26.