February 10, 2014
British campaigners have censured the UK and US militaries for carrying out non-transparent drone attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The condemnation came after the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) revealed for the first time that UK military pilots have been launching missile in “conflict zones” using unmanned US aircraft.
The revelation was made last week, nine months after Drone Wars UK, a website monitoring and inspecting the British use of unmanned technologies, submitted a freedom of information request to the MoD.
It received figures showing British pilots have launched at least 39 missile strikes against suspected militants from US military drones based in Afghanistan.
This came as the MoD had been insisting that British drone pilots always operate under UK rules of engagement.
According to figures, US Reaper and Predator drones have been operated by British pilots in Afghanistan on 2,150 occasions between 2006 and 2012 – an average of almost once a day. The figures do not include the thousands of missions British troops have flown with their own fleet of 10 Reaper aircraft.
Latest figures show 94 Hellfire missiles have been fired by Royal Air Force (RAF) drones in Afghanistan in 2013. This brings to 457 the total number of munitions and bombs fired by British unmanned systems since 2008.
“This latest revelation once again demonstrates the secrecy surrounding the use of armed drones and once again underlines the need for increased scrutiny and greater transparency about their use,” said the website’s creator, Chris Cole.
“The nature of drone technology means they are being used with little or no public accountability. Unless we act now to curb this new weaponry it seems inevitable that drones will increasingly be used to launch secret and unaccountable military attacks leading to global instability and increased insecurity,” Cole added.
Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch added, “One of the problems with drone programs from the beginning has been a near-total lack of transparency about the scale of the programs, where they were operating, what their goals are, and who they are targeting and how. If it is now not even possible to know which country has its finger on the button, that adds yet another layer of confusion which will make accountability even more elusive.”
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries — including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen — to target what it calls militants. According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to civilian casualties.
In October last year, a joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said US officials could be found guilty of war crimes for the secret CIA drone attacks which have killed hundreds of people.