Afghans launch legal action over British drone strike as experts suggest British drones heading to Africa

Haji Abdullah, 56, and his son Habibullah, 18, who were both killed by a drone in Helmand province in October 2011
Haji Abdullah, 56, and his son Habibullah, 18, who were both killed by a drone in Helmand province in October 2011

Legal action has been launched against the UK following the deaths of two men in an alleged British drone strike in Afghanistan.  The family of Haji Abdullah (56), and his son Habibullah  (18), say the two men were killed by a drone strike as they drove a tractor on their farm in Nawzad province, Helmand. According to The Times, their relatives watched as a high altitude drone launched a missile which struck the tractor, killing Habibullah almost instantly and leaving his father fatally wounded.  The family also said that they had registered the case with local officials without any response.

Lawyers for the family have sent a letter before claim seeking an investigation and requesting disclosure of the RAF’s records relating to the incident. Like the other on-going drone lawsuit – launched by Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. on behalf of the family of Noor Khan – the case is likely to take some time coming to court.  The RAF told The Times that the case had little merit with one source saying dismissively the legal action had “more holes than Edam.”

Meanwhile with David Cameron visiting British forces in Afghanistan and saying ‘mission accomplished’ the UK continues to insist that no decision has been taken with regard to the future of the British Reapers currently based in Afghanistan.  While it is possible (just) that no final decision has been made, it is absolutely  impossible to believe that no plans at all have been drawn up.

Until now it appeared that there were only two options: the Reapers would be withdrawn from Afghanistan and stored in the UK (they would not be allowed to fly in the UK under current CAA rules)  or they would remain in Afghanistan as part of some post-withdrawal security force.  Now however, a third option has surfaced.  According to UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson and other well-informed sources, there is serious discussion taking place within the MoD about deploying British Reaper to Africa to help with counter-insurgency operations there.  Ben Emmerson stated directly at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones:

“When these assets [British Reapers] are no longer needed or no longer part of a conflict in Afghanistan they are liable to be relocated to Africa in order to be available for use in counter insurgency.”

We asked the MoD to comment on these suggestions but all they would say is that “there are no plans to send British Reapers to Africa”.

Needless to say the deployment of armed British drones to Africa would be an extremely serious development and should be, at the very least, debated and discussed not least by Parliament.  We urge that the MoD clarify immediately what is happening to British Reapers currently deployed in Afghanistan after British forces withdraw. We will obviously continue to watch this issue closely.

Britain’s involvement with Israel’s drone wars has been highlighted in a new report by War on Want entitled ‘Killer Drones: UK complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people‘.   The report examines the UK’s Watchkeeper drone, being built jointly between Thales UK and Elbit Systems of Israel and investigates the impact of Israeli drone strikes on the people of Gaza.   War on Want say:

“The design and technology of Watchkeeper is based closely on Elbit’s Hermes 450 model, extensively used over Gaza.  The British government is in effect, buying technology that has been ‘field tested’ on Palestinians.”

Guardian columnist Seamus Milne, in his recent review of the film Dirty Wars, urges that we must also remember the UK’s role in US drone strikes in Pakistan.  As he says Britain is up to its neck in US dirty wars and death squads:

“There can be no doubt that GCHQ intelligence is used for drone attacks – just as British undercover units have been operating hand in glove with US special forces in Somalia, Mali, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Milne also engages Peter Lee of Portsmouth University in this five-minute Guardian debate video on the use of armed drones:

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