British parliamentarians condemn US drone strikes as its revealed that RAF pilots controlled US drones over Libya

NATO airstrike between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah

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

9 thoughts on “British parliamentarians condemn US drone strikes as its revealed that RAF pilots controlled US drones over Libya

  • As an American I am disgraced and appalled by drones, and our cowardly, illegal use of this horrible weapon. We have become the worst terrorists in the world. I just wish that our president could see things this way. Martin

  • Lord Astor’s answer clarifies but does not change the answer originally given. The UK does not, and has not operated Drones (that it owns and controls) outside of Afghanistan even if RAF pilots have flown aircraft operated by the US. The RAF pilots were on exchange tours operating US aircraft which are not under the control of the UK MOD. Their orders would come from NATO or the US not from the RAF or the MOD. These Drones are in no way ‘operated’ by the UK even though RAF pilots are doing the actual flying – apart from the stated fact that the RAF pilots retain their own UK Rules of Engagement.

    • Andy
      I think you are trying to split hairs…. British RAF pilots operating under British rulesd of engagement operated drones over Libya. Members of the British armed forces always remain under the command and control of the British military – or do I have the wrong?


      • You are wrong, I think. The specific missions were tasked by US command and control and certainly not by the UK military. The pilots were sort of ‘on loan’ with some restrictions as to what they could be asked to do by the US chain of command. The ROE thing is a back stop so that they can’t be ordered to do a particular task that would be illegal under UK military law. The pilots flew the drones but the drones were always operated by the US military. That’s not splitting hairs – its a clear distinction and it remains true that the UK has not operated drones anywhere but in Afghanistan.

  • The point is that this often happens in reverse too. We could have US pilots on loan flying Tornado aircraft in Afghanistan. You would not be able to say as a result that the US was “operating Tornado in Afghanistan” – as the aircraft remain totally under the C&C of the UK, even if the US were to have caveats about the sort of missions their pilots could be asked (by the UK) to undertake. The US can’t task those aircraft directly.

  • What if Iranian pilots were discovered to be operating Syrian jets over Allepo? Do you think everyone would be happy with a ‘Iran is not involved / Iranian pilots are just sort of loan’ argumennt? Or do you think most sensible people would accuse Iran of being involved….

  • Well then I think most people would say that was probably a very different matter. We were involved in the Libyan affair and that was fully approved by the UN, voted for by the UK Parliament and directed by NATO. No one is suggesting we were not involved. The issue is whether the UK MOD operated Reaper in Libya and they didn’t.

    RAF pilots flying American UAVs in Libya is not the same as the RAF operating UAVs over Libya. The issue is one of command and control and the UAVs were under direct US not UK command. The RAF could not have tasked an ‘on loan’ RAF pilot to do anything with the aircraft he was flying.

    Of course it would not have been a problem if the Government had decided to deploy and operate UK Reaper in Libyan operations – any more than deploying Tornado or Typhoon.

    The FACT is that they didn’t.

  • Think you are missing the point there Andrew. Yes it is a problem. That’s really what the site is about.

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