Cameron testing the water on British drone strikes in Syria

David Cameron with RAF pilots at Al Minhad Air Base in UAE (credit Stefan Rousseau/PA)
David Cameron with RAF pilots at Al Minhad Air Base in UAE, 2012 (credit Stefan Rousseau/PA)

With the faltering of the US air war against ISIS in Iraq, the UK and the US are considering ways to increase their military activity against the group in Syria.  “We need to crush ISIL in Iraq and Syria” said Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons this week in a response to the massacre of Western holidaymakers in Tunisia.

This phrase was interpreted by many in the media (possibly after government spin doctor briefings) to mean possible UK air and drone strikes in Syria. Read more

Drones and the Strategic Defence Review

BAE System's Taranis drone in flight
BAE System’s Taranis drone in flight

For the past two years the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has been looming ever larger but any questions about process or content have been impatiently batted away with the refrain that such issues were “a matter for after the General Election.”

Now the election has come and gone, the government confirmed in the Queen’s Speech that it “will undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.” Read more

An initial response to the report of the Birmingham Policy Commission on Drones

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The Birmingham Policy Commission has released a new report entitled The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK. While Drone Wars UK welcomes the attention this important report brings to the issue – and would support some of its recommendations – we have to disagree with the main conclusion and thrust of the report.

The Birmingham Policy Commission says that its aim is to “to bring leading figures from the public, private and third sectors together with Birmingham academics to generate new thinking on contemporary issues of global, national and civic concern.” A specific group of ‘commissioners’ are gathered together to look at each particular issue and the Commission on drones is chaired by Sir David Omand, former Head of GCHQ, and made up of academics, former military officers, and representatives of the ‘defence’ industry. Jen Gibson of Reprieve seemed to have the sole responsibility for representing civil society organisations (a full list of Commissioners for this report is here). Read more

PR Trumps Transparency Part II: Government response to Select Committee report on drones

responseThe Government Response to the Defence Select Committee Report on ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’ (drones to the rest of us) was published on 29 July. As we wrote when the Committee’s report was originally published in March, there is a gaping hole in the document where actual details of UK drone operation in Afghanistan – and an analysis of their impact on the ground – should be. Without this crucial information it is, in our opinion, impossible to undertake any proper assessment of “the current and future use” of drones, as the Committee claims it has done.

Despite this obvious omission from its investigation – or perhaps because of it – the Defence Select Committee was able to be enthusiastic about the use of drones, calling them “a key military capability for the future.”  The report did however make some observations and recommendations, to which the Government has now responded. Read more

Defence Select Committee issues report on drones: PR trumps transparency

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Three years ago today (25 March) four Afghan civilians were killed and two seriously injured in a British drone strike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province. According to the MoD the strike, which also killed two men believed to be combatants, was investigated by ISAF who found that the strike had been “in accordance with extant procedures and rules of engagement.”  Words of regret were issued, the case closed and British and US drone operations in Afghanistan continued unabated.

Seemingly by coincidence, the Defence Select Committee chose the third anniversary of this tragic event to release the report of its inquiry into the use of ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’.  Not only is the anniversary itself ignored, so too is how UK drone strikes are actually impacting on the ground in Afghanistan. The fact that casualty figures from UK drone strikes in Afghanistan are not made public is not even mentioned, never mind challenged. Just as the four Afghan civilians killed in that British drone strike three years ago remain nameless, so to do all victims of UK drone strikes in Afghanistan Read more

MoD’s drones PR offensive continues as UK commits to a drone filled future

Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois speaks to Reaper pilots at RAF Waddington
Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois speaks to Reaper pilots at RAF Waddington

As we reported, in December the MoD began a PR offensive on the UK’s use of drones by inviting selected members of the press to RAF Waddington in order that the MoD could correct the  “wild misrepresentations” about drones put about by drone activists.

As part of this initiative, UK Defence Secretary wrote an op-ed piece in the Guardian to which a former US intelligence analyst, Heather Linebaugh scathingly responded  “few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on.” Read more