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

MoD undertakes PR offensive on drones

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond holds a Black Hornet drone at RAF Waddington
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond holds a Black Hornet drone at RAF Waddington

The MoD has launched a carefully controlled PR exercise to defend its use of armed drones.  A selected number of journalist were invited to RAF Waddington to view the new Reaper control centre that has been operating UK drones in Afghanistan since last April.   As well as being able to view RAF pilots controlling Reapers, the MoD also put on display the UK’s other five unarmed drones.

As usual whether to call these aircraft ‘drones’ or ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ or ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ seems to have taken up an extraordinary amount of time. Read more

UK Defence Select Committee announces remit of inquiry into use of drones

Last November we reported that  the UK Defence Select Committee was considering an inquiry into the growing use of drones as part of a wider inquiry leading up to the Strategic Defence Review.  Today, the Committee has announced further details in a press release (below).  Drone Wars UK early submission to the inquiry is available here.  More on this soon no doubt. Read more

Lawyers Challenge Legal Basis of UK Drone Strikes

Click images to download document (pdf)
Click images to download document (pdf)

A leading firm of UK lawyers has today published a 52-page opinion on the legality of the use of armed drones by UK forces in Afghanistan.   In what is sure to cause consternation in Whitehall, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) argue that

“it is highly likely that the UK’s current use of drones is unlawful. There is a strong probability that the UK has misdirected itself as to the requirements of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) principles of proportionality, distinction and humanity and as to its human rights obligation to protect human life and to investigate all deaths (civilians and combatants alike) arguably caused in breach of that obligation.”

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