New report examines civilian deaths in French drone-instigated air strike in Mali

Stoke White Investigations has examined the reported killing of civilians in a French air strike on a wedding party in Mail in January 2021. The following is adapted from the report’s Executive Summary. The full report can be viewed here.  

On 3 January 2021, France undertook 3 airstrikes as part of its Operation Barkhane mission in Bounti, central Mali. France claimed it had attacked an armed “terrorist group”, but locals reported that a wedding party had been attacked. A subsequent UN report into the strikes  – the first investigating France’s military activities in Mali – concluded that a wedding was indeed taking place, and that 19 civilians had been killed.

What exactly happened on the Sunday afternoon is disputed by the various parties of this civilian casualty allegation, but by the evening of the attack, a local social organisation, the AES Corporation, had already notified its members that a wedding was attacked outside Bounti, killing civilians.  Two days later, French forces told the AFP that its military aircrafts had “neutralised” dozens of fighters in central Mali and that reports of an attack on a wedding “do not match the observations that were made”.

French Armed Forces reported on January 7 that they had targeted members of Katiba Serma, an armed group, loosely connected with Al-Qaeda after they had conducted a multi-day intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission in Douentza, in central Mali’s Mopti region. As part of this, a French Reaper drone had been conducting an ISR mission for one hour when it decided to follow a motorcycle carrying two individuals north of the “NR16” highway.  The motorcycle joined approximately “40 adult men in an isolated area”, one kilometre north of the village of Bounti, in the region of Douentza. The real-time intelligence of the drone had apparently given the French Armed Forces the confidence that it located members of the Katiba Serma. Read more

The future of British combat air power in the second drone age

Whilst the UK is already acquiring the latest version of the Predator armed drone, which it is choosing to call Protector, behind the scenes it is also developing new complex combat aircraft and systems to project force and fight wars in the future. Here Tim Street gives an overview of what is happening and discusses how these developments are incorporating lessons learned from drone warfare over the past 15 years.

FCAS: RAF mock up of Tempest aircraft operating with 'loyal wingman' drones
Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS): RAF mock up of Tempest aircraft operating with ‘loyal wingman’ drones

What is the future for combat air power involving the UK and the world’s other leading military nations? More specifically, what types of new technology are being developed in this area? And how does this relate to the second drone age, which is characterised by rapid horizontal and vertical proliferation? Such questions are currently under discussion, with several countries—including the UK—in the process of deciding whether to spend further billions to develop and acquire advanced capabilities for their air forces. This is partly because the current generation of fighter jets will begin retiring from service in the 2030s and 2040s. The next generation of combat aircraft will form a central part of what is often described in a European context as Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS). The FCAS concept refers to a ‘system of systems’, including primarily offensive, war-fighting weapons designed to achieve air superiority.  Read more

NATO’s new military drone arrives in Europe  

21 November 2019, Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy – NATO’s first RQ-4D has arrived in Europe.

Ahead of its summit in London next month, NATO has announced that the first of the massive Global Hawk drones that make up the ‘Alliance Ground Support’ (AGS) system has arrived in Europe.

The clumsily named Alliance Ground Support system will eventually comprise five specially upgraded Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 40 drones, a permanent ground station at Sigonella Airbase, Sicily, and several mobile ground control stations, to be used among NATO allies. Read more

European use of military drones expanding

European-ReaperTwo weeks ago a new coalition of European civil society groups (including Drone Wars UK) launched a Call to Action on Armed Drones at a meeting in Brussels attended by, amongst others, US drone whistleblowers Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling.

The European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD) launch was on the eve of an important European Parliament meeting, jointly organised by the subcommittee on Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Security and Security and Defence, focusing on the human rights impact of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations.   A video of the meeting, including inputs from Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve and Radhya Almutawakel of the Yemeni Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights is available here. Read more

Europe condemns civilian casualties in Gaza while procuring Israeli ‘combat proven’ drones

Israeli-airstrikeAs Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, named ‘Operation Protective Edge’, enters its second week, Palestinian casualties have reached 168 and continue to mount according to the latest UN figures. Israeli casualties are so far nil. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of these Palestinian casualties “80 per cent of the fatalities (133) have been civilians, of whom 21 per cent (36) are children, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law.” The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 1,140 Palestinians, including 296 children and 233 women have also been injured. As well as this, OCHA estimate 25,300 children whose families have experienced death, injury or loss of homes are in need of psychosocial support. Read more

UK-France declaration reveals new Reaper users club to rival European drones club

cameron and hollande5
Prime Minister David Cameron and President François Hollande

The final text of the Declaration on Security and Defence signed at the UK-France Summit last week has now been released and it reveals some details about future European drone projects.  The whole document is worth reading to get an understanding of where UK-French military co-operation is heading, for example:

“Based on our experience of leadership in foreign policy and defence, the UK and France believe it is essential to take a comprehensive approach to safeguarding European and trans-Atlantic security. This means tackling instability where it arises, preventing conflict, building the capacity of local forces and encouraging long-term economic development as the most effective means to guarantee both the stability of our neighbourhood, the safety of our citizens and the security of our wider interests.” (Para 5)

Read more