UK doubles armed drone fleet in Afghanistan

RAF Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air SystemThe MoD have announced today (3 July 2014) that the additional five armed Reaper drones purchased as an urgent operational requirement (UOR) in December 2010) have begun operations in Afghanistan.  Questions have been asked about why equipment bought urgently has taken over three and half-years to come into service with Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones, Tom Watson MP, telling the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“‘Urgent Operational Requirements’ are meant to be used for emergencies in combat zones. This revelation, that approximately £100m of taxpayers’ money used has been used to purchase equipment that may never be used in Afghanistan, is a scandal at a time when service personnel are being made redundant.”

In today’s press release the MoD continue to play down UK drone strikes saying:

“In over 54,000 hours of operations using Reaper in Afghanistan, only 459 weapons have been fired, which is less than one weapon for every 120 hours flying.”

It should be noted that these figures are more than six months out of date (see up-to-date weapon release figures here) and, as we have previously pointed out, over the past three years on average there are 8 weapons releases from UK drones per month – hardly rare.

Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK said:

“At a time when the UK should be ending its drone operations with the draw down of forces from Afghanistan it is instead doubling its armed drone fleet and planning to redeploy them to Africa or the Gulf. As we have consistently said armed drones will simply mean more warfare. Armed drones make it far too easy for politicians and military commanders to opt to choose to use so-called ‘risk-free’ lethal force rather than engage in long term sustainable solutions to political conflicts and crisis.”

Serious questions continue to be asked about the growing use of armed unmanned drones around the globe. With more than five years of such operations under its belt the UK should be helping the international community understand and explore the legal and ethical implication of drone warfare. Instead it chooses to remain silent often about even the most basic details. Its high time the MoD responds to calls for greater transparency about its drone operations which have recently come from the UK Defence Select Committee and the UN Human Rights Council.

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