UK drone and air strikes in 2015 – a look at the data

Analysing updates published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of RAF operations in Iraq and Syria give something of an insight into the use of drones and aircraft for strikes by British forces in 2015.  The updates do not give a complete picture as some strikes are omitted (for example the targeted killing of Reyaad Khan) and the number of strikes recorded in the reports do not match officially published figures. Nevertheless they do give a broad indication of British air operations against ISIS. (Note the MoD’s definition of a ‘strike’ and how it calculates the number of a strikes it has launched is extremely convoluted and has changed during the year – see this explanation from the MoD.

Strikes in Iraq

UK-drone-air-strikes-2015 by month- c

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
Tornado 17 12 20 19 18 21 22 19 16 10 40 57 271
Reaper 21 8 16 13 16 8 16 27 28 10 25 16 204
Typhoon 35   35
Total 38 20 36 32 34 29 38 46 44 20 65 108 510

*Note figures are from our analysis of MoD updates on operations against ISIS

According to the updates there was a steep rise in British air strikes in Iraq from early November which continued following the Parliamentary vote authorising strikes in Syria at the beginning of December.  In fact according to our analysis of the figures, one-third of all UK air strikes against ISIS in 2015 took place in Iraq in the final two months of the year.

Strikes in Syria

UK-drone-air-strikes-2015 -SYRIA by month- d

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Tornado   8
Reaper   1
Typhoon   8
Total 17

*Note figures are from our analysis of MoD updates on operations against ISIS – they do not include the well publicised drone strike against Reyaad Khan in August 2015.

As some have noted, the actual number of British strikes in Syria since the vote is very small – three separate engagements of Tornados/Typhoons launching 16 strikes and one Reaper drone strike on Christmas Day. The steep rise in British strikes in Iraq compared with the small number of strikes in Syria is in stark contrast to the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister that Britain had a military and moral duty to launch strikes in Syria. While the small number of strikes in Syria may only be temporary due to the focus on retaking Ramadi, it may indicate as commentators and officials have reported, the lack of targets in Syria.

Reapers vs Tornados

While the MoD regularly argues that the primary role of Reaper drones is surveillance, British drones have been carrying out almost as many air strikes as the UK’s dedicated strike aircraft. According to our analysis of the MoD updates, over 2015 as a whole, British Reaper drones have carried out 40% of UK air strikes against ISIS (with monthly figures fluctuating between 28% and 64%).  It may be that with the deployment of addition British military aircraft to the Middle East that the Reaper drones will be used less to undertake strikes and more for surveillance. We shall watch the figures carefully over the coming months.


The table below details the targets of UK strikes in 2015 according to the MoD updates.  While Tornados and Typhoons have undertaken the majority of strikes and therefore hit the majority of targets in the various categories, drones have been used more to target vehicles, checkpoints, IED emplacers/vehicles and storage compounds.


Civilian Casualties

The UK continues to insist that there is no evidence that any civilians have been killed in the hundreds of air strikes it has undertaken in Iraq and Syria. However civilian casualties from Coalition air strikes continue to be reported.

Airwars, which monitors Coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria, regularly reports on civilian casualties from Coaltion air strikes and reported just before Christmas that British strikes had been carried out on days and in locations when civilian casualties occurred. However in response the Ministry of Defence told the media that it would not be investigating reports of civilians casualties unless they came directly from UK military personnel, or ‘local forces’ deemed friendly.  Such a position is not only absurd but immoral.

Reports of civilian casualties from UK air and drone strikes from reliable sources must be taken seriously and investigated.  Otherwise the UK’s insistence that no civilians have been killed or injured in the hundreds of air and drone strikes it has carried out is not just incredible, but simply no longer believable.

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