On the day that 12 British parliamentarians wrote a joint letter to The Times calling on President Obama to stop drone strikes in Pakistan, it has been revealed that RAF pilots flew US drones during the Libyan conflict last year.
The UK has repeatedly insisted, in response to questions about UK involvement in the US drone strikes in Pakistan for example, that it has only every operated drones over Afghanistan. However in a written answer in the House of Lords, on the last day before recess, UK Defence Minister Lord Astor revealed:
“Her Majesty’s government do not use armed remotely piloted air systems against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan. However, UK personnel flew armed remotely piloted air systems missions against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011, in support of the Nato humanitarian mission authorised under UNSCR resolution 1973.”
The fact that it has now been admitted that RAF personnel controlled armed drones in the Libyan conflict last year – despite the repeated insistence by the MoD that UK has only ever operated armed drones in Afghanistan – underlines the need for much greater transparency from the MoD about the use of drones. It also begs the question of course, where else are they being used?
There is a real concern that the nature of these unmanned, remotely operated drones means they can be used to launch armed attacks clandestinely and without proper accountability. There is a now a clear need for proper parliamentary scrutiny of the growing use and development of armed drones by the UK.
The Letter to the Times from twelve British parliamentarians reads:
“As parliamentarians, we believe that unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks carried out by the United States are dangerously increasing resentment and anger among the people of Pakistan. This results in revenge attacks that could otherwise have been prevented. Since 2004, UAV covert missions – more often referred to as “drone attacks” – have been concentrated within Pakistan, thereby undermining the sovereignty of the nation, an ally to Britain in the war on terror.
Until very recently the United States refused to acknowledge the existence of such attacks. The Administration rejects allegations about the severity of the mass casualties, which it deems to be “collateral damage”, and instead prefers vaguely to refer to the strikes as “covert intelligence operations”.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more than 3,000 deaths have occurred as a direct result of these secret strikes since they began in 2004, including hundreds of children and innocent civilians. The North Waziristan region of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas has experienced the heaviest concentration of drone attacks in recent years.
We urge the United States and Nato to stop these so-called “covert” CIA drone attacks, not least because they play into the hands of the extremists and terrorist recruiters but also because they undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan.”
- Lord Ahmed of Rotherham
- Lord Steel of Aikwood
- Lord Judd
- Lord Hussain of Luton
- Lord Rea Eskdale
- Lord Avebury
- John Hemming MP
- Paul Flynn MP
- Yasmin Qureshi MP
- George Galloway MP
- Gerald Kaufman MP
- Simon Danzcuk MP