Nearly all the attention and anger (or joy, even) about the use of drones and deadly drone attacks has been directed towards the USA and specifically 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama with his infamous ‘kill list‘ (imagine Romney getting hold of that). But those who have paid attention will have noticed that the UK has also been involved and has been for a long time.
The Daily Telegraph published a good article last month highlighting the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) involvement
“Since 2007 the RAF has operated 39 Squadron, a detachment of five US-built MQ-9 Reaper aircraft at Kandahar Airfield. While America has a sprawling UAV programme targeting Islamic militants everywhere from Pakistan to Somalia, British Reapers have only ever been used as part of the official combat mission against the Taliban over Afghanistan.“
“The vast majority of the 38,500 hours of operations flown by the RAF Reapers have been in intelligence-gathering rather than in attacking targets. Most of the 35 RAF Reaper pilots are based at Creech, an airfield near Las Vegas, where they control the aircraft via satellite as they fly over Afghanistan.”
and raised important questions and issues about the use of drones
“The moral question overshadowing UAVs is whether their use trivialises the business of killing. According to the report ‘Armed Drones and the PlayStation Mentality’ by Chris Cole, the director of the Drone Wars website, ‘Young military personnel raised on a diet of video games now kill real people remotely using joysticks. Far removed from the human consequences of their actions, how will this generation of fighters value the right to life?’”
“…risk-free, long-distance strikes using UAVs could insulate the Western public from the human toll of war. If we can kill with such ease while protecting Western lives and avoiding the costs of deploying troops, will the bar be lower for governments to make war?”.
My suggestion would be to read the Telegraph‘s article before heading over to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism‘s (TBIJ) website for more detailed articles on drones. The TBIJ maintains a comprehensive set of data and stats relating to drone strikes and casualties, and I present here two articles published by them on British involvement in drone warfare in Afghanistan. [The TBIJ allow for the sharing of their articles. ]
Details of 99 UK drone strikes in Afghanistan revealed | March 1st, 2012 | by Sally Brammall and Emma Slater
The British Ministry of Defence has carried out 248 drone strikes in Afghanistan to date, of which 60% are ‘secret and unreported’, a report has revealed.
The report, by respected blog Drone Wars UK, looks back through operational updates published by the Royal Air Force (RAF) since June 2008. It is the first time that UK drone attacks in Afghanistan have been collated and charted.
However, the group suspect their list is merely a ‘peak behind the curtain’. Details of only 99 of the 248 drone strikes have been revealed by the RAF (the total number being obtained through a Freedom of Information request), and the group feels that reports may have been ‘cherry-picked’, possibly to tone down collateral damage.
For instance, says the report,’a British strike that took place on 25th March 2011 in which at least four civilians were killed was not mentioned in the weekly reports and all reports of Reaper activity ceased for eight weeks after’.
Drone Wars UK has asked the MoD to release details of the circumstances of UK drone strikes, but have thus far been denied the information.
Nevertheless, the database presents some fascinating insights into the UK’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles to track and target ‘high value’ insurgent targets.
From June 2011 onwards, the RAF reports began to include casualty figures in some of their reports. The Drone Wars database reveals that there have been a total of 52 people reported killed across 18 strikes.
Drone Wars UK – Key Findings
Two of the strikes were targeted at a ‘high value insurgent’ and a ‘known insurgent’, while a third was detailed as ‘a significant operation’. The group commented that ‘these could potentially be targeted killings’.
40% of the strikes detailed by the RAF targeted ‘attacking insurgents’, ‘insurgents firing on friendly forces’, or insurgents ‘preparing’ or ‘massing’ to attack.
17 strikes targeted insurgents who were ‘active’, ‘armed’ or ‘committing hostile acts’. ’It is not clear in all cases what this actually means’, commented the Drone Wars UK team.
Another 13 of the reported drone strikes were targeted against alleged militants planting IEDs, and six strikes targeted weapons caches or explosive production facilities.
The RAF reports also revealed that on two occasions, ‘missiles were diverted away from their targets…as civilians had approached the target area.’
The list is intended to be an ongoing resource, regularly updated as new information is received.
You can read the full list here.
Last week, the Bureau published Somalia’s Hidden War, a report revealing that up to 21 US military strikes in Somalia since 2007 have killed as many as 169 people.
UK parliament launches group to focus on drones | October 18th, 2012 | by Alice K Ross
Members of parliament Tom Watson and Zac Goldsmith are to lead a new parliamentary group set up to scrutinise the rapid spread of drones both on the battlefield and in civilian life.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones launched yesterday, with Labour MP Watson appointed as president and Conservative Zac Goldsmith as a vice president.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, told the politicians the US’s current use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia amounts to ‘death penalty without trial’. He added: ‘We sleepwalked into a nuclear age, now we are sleepwalking into a drone age.’
He pointed to significant questions over the legal framework for such campaigns – as well as the secrecy over who is killed and whether they inspire extremism.
The UK currently flies five models of armed drone and has carried out 319 strikes in Afghanistan since 2008.
And while reporting on drones tends to focus on the US’s covert campaigns, Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK highlighted research showing that 76 countries currently possess some form of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), however rudimentary – including Botswana, Panama and Lithuania.
Related story – Where’s all the money gone? How the UK spent £2bn on drones
The UK currently flies five types of drone, although only one model, the Reaper, is armed. It has carried out 319 strikes in Afghanistan since 2008, Coles added, with British pilots flying from the US drone base at Creech, Nevada. And in the final day of the last parliamentary session, the government quietly admitted it had also flown drone missions in Libya, despite previously insisting it had only flown drones in Afghanistan.
Drones are set to become increasingly prominent beyond the battlefield – but the legal framework for using them in civilian airspace remains problematic, politicians heard. At present it’s perfectly legal to fly your own drone, such as the £300 iPad-controlled Parrot, to within 150ft of your friends and neighbours.
Related story – Details of 99 UK drone strikes in Afghanistan revealed (see article immediately above)
Neither the Civil Aviation Authority or Astraea, the industry-led programme that aims to establish guidelines for civil use of drones, has shown much appetite for grappling with the privacy implications of this, Coles added. And new laws are expected to open up the UK’s skies for commercial drones in the next decade.
Watson told the Bureau the new group will meet an important need. ‘Drones herald a new era in military technology, and they require parliamentarians to consider all the policy implications, both internationally and domestically,’ he said.
- Britain’s military drones spending tops £2bn (guardian.co.uk)
- We need to know the truth about UK drones policy | Clive Stafford Smith (guardian.co.uk)
- telegraph- The air force men who fly drones in Afghanistan by remote control (telegraph.co.uk)
- Drone Pilots Say Their Job Is Not Like Playing A Video Game (businessinsider.com)
- RAF drone squadron to be operated from UK (telegraph.co.uk)
- UK government spends £2bn on drones (thebureauinvestigates.com)
- UK parliament launches group to focus on drones (thebureauinvestigates.com)
- Drone War Creating More Enemies Than it Destroys (blacklistednews.com)
- Peace protesters target killer US drone base (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- American “Heroes” – Those Who Kill Children (12160.info)