Drone Wars is today publishing a sortable and searchable dataset of all known UK air and drone strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since September 2014. Included in the data are a small number of UK drones strikes that occurred in the second half of 2018 that were not reported at the time.
The data, compiled from official sources, contains more than 1,650 individual reports with the vast majority detailing the target, the aircraft used to launch the strike and which munitions were used. Our aim in publishing this dataset is to both aid transparency and to encourage greater study of the impact of UK air and drone operations.
While the MoD currently has a list of UK air strikes in Iraq and Syria on its website (available here), the reports in many cases are only a summary of the original releases, with vital detail edited out. For example the entry for 18 January 2018 reads as follows:
“2 Reapers struck 6 terrorist targets, including 2 armed trucks, 2 lorry-bombs, a mortar and a Daesh held building, in eastern Syria.”
However the original report, available in our dataset, reads:
“SDF operations north of Abu Kamal on Thursday 18 January were supported by two RAF Reapers as well as other coalition aircraft. One of our Reapers used a Hellfire to knock out an armed truck that was firing on the SDF, then pursued a second such vehicle as it drove away and destroyed it with another Hellfire. A third Hellfire was used in a successful attack on a Daesh-held building. The second Reaper also conducted three attacks; a Hellfire missile silenced a mortar spotted firing from beneath some trees, and a further missile and a GBU-12 guided bomb took care of two truck-bombs. As well as conducting their own attacks, the Reapers also provided targeting and surveillance support to seven attacks by coalition aircraft, against a range of terrorist positions, including two engineering vehicles being used by Daesh, and a large group of terrorists mounted on motorcycles, whom our aircraft tracked to a compound, where they were successfully targeted by a fast jet.”
Perhaps even more importantly, more than 40 reports of UK strikes – including the first four to occur in late September/ early October 2014 – are simply absent from the MoD’s list. In addition, the targeted killing of Reyaad Khan in August 2015, which was a separate, UK intelligence-led, mission and not part of coalition operations against ISIS, is also not included in the MoD’s list. All of these are included in Drone Wars dataset. For many reasons we think that it is important that a full list of UK air strikes is publicly available. At the end of UK air operations in Afghanistan in 2014, the MoD deleted details of UK strikes in Afghanistan from its website.
Unreported drones strikes in 2018
Intriguingly, there are eight Reaper drone strikes included in the MoD’s summary list for which no details were released at the time of the strikes All of these occurred in Syria during the second half of 2018 and several have the potential to be possible targeted killings. It is possibly relevant that these unreported strikes occurred in the months following the May 2018 announcement that a UK drone strike in eastern Syria had killed a civilian.
RAF Reaper strikes in 2018 which were not publicised at the time
Separately, analysis of FoI data on weapons launches by UK aircraft in 2019/20 revealed that there appeared to be UK strikes that had not been acknowledged by the MoD. In responses to Drone Wars on the matter, the MoD said four strikes had been “omitted in error” and that they would be added to the MoD’s published list. However, almost a year later, while three have been added the following Reaper strike is still absent for the MoD’s list:
According to responses to our Freedom of Information requests, UK aircraft have dropped 3,024 bombs and fired 1,298 missiles during Operation Shader at a cost (for the munitions only) of £330 million. At the time of writing, the last UK air strike occurred in December 2021 when a £200,000 ASRAAM missile was used to down a small drone.
UK weapons fired on Operation Shader, Sept 2014 – March 2022
|Weapon||No. Used||Unit cost (£)||Total Cost (£)|
|Paveway IV guided bomb (500lb)||2,878||70,000||201,460,000|
|Hellfire missile (100lb)||893||70,000||62,510,000|
|Brimstone missile (110lb)||384||105,000||40,320,000|
|Brimstone 2 missile (110lb)||2||105,000||210,000|
|GBU-12 bomb (500lb)||95||60,000||5,700,000|
|Enhanced Paveway II bomb (1,000lb)||47||100,000||4,700,000|
|Storm Shadow missile (1,000lb)||18||800,000||14,400,000|
|Enhanced Paveway III bomb (2,000lb)||4||150,000||600,000|
|ASRAAAM missile (20lb)||1||200,000||200,000|