The Ministry of Defence refused to reveal how many drone strikes had been fired by UK-operated drones until the information was required by a parliamentary question from MP Caroline Lucas, earlier this month. Defence minister Andrew Robathan answered it.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has highlighted the information he gave, stressing the key role played by British unmanned aircraft in the Afghan conflict. British-piloted drones carried out 22% of all drone strikes in the conflict between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the last year for which comparison was possible, British-piloted drones launched 30% of all drone attacks in the theatre.
Data provided to the Bureau by the US Air Force last year shows that for each mission flown, British forces were significantly more likely to fire potentially deadly missiles than their US allies. 7% of British drone sorties between 2008 and 2011 resulted in a strike, compared with just over 2% of US missions. In 2012 10% of sorties led to missiles being fired.
Part of the reason for the high activity of British pilots in comparison to the size of its fleet is the practice of embedding pilots with US forces. Hansard records the answer to a parliamentary question in April this year, which revealed that British pilots embedded with US forces have flown over 2,100 drone missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Neither the US or UK record casualties from drone strikes in Afghanistan. The MoD told the Bureau that it does not collate a ‘comprehensive record’ of casualties ‘because of the immense difficulty and risks that would be involved in collecting robust data’.
Note that the United Nations is said to believe that US-operated drone strikes pose a growing challenge to the international rule of law, perhaps referring to the UN Emmerson report, and last year a study conducted by the law schools of Stanford and New York University said that the US government’s drone program “terrorizes” local communities and kills large numbers of civilians.
But the US and UK governments continue this barbarity.