Today (4 March 2016) marks 500 days since British Reaper drones first deployed over Iraq (22 Oct 2014) and then Syria in their operations against ISIS. In that time, according to our analysis of the MoD updates on air strikes against ISIS (Daesh), there have been 250 British drone strikes in Iraq and 17 in Syria out of a total of 796 British air strikes (not including the Reyaad Khan strike on Aug 21 which MoD insists was not part of Operation Shader). Read more
Analysis of information released by the Ministry of Defence shows a huge rise in the number of British air strikes against ISIS in Iraq since October 2015. In addition our analysis also shows that the UK’s adoption of the US methodology for counting air strikes means that official MoD strike figures undercount strikes by around 30% compared with the traditional British methodology.
Increased British air strikes in Iraq
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
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released new data on UK drone operations in Iraq and Syria to Drone Wars in response to a Freedom of Information request. The data covers Reaper operations in Iraq and Syria in the third quarter of the year (June – Sept 2015) as well as new data on British Tornado missions and strikes since the beginning of operations against ISIS.
The table below give details of UK drone operations in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the year (data for whole operation is here). Note figures here use the ‘UK methodology’ for calculating number of strikes (see more below). Read more
Since British military operations against ISIS began last September the MoD has been publishing brief updates of its military activity in Iraq on its website (see here). These updates include some details of strikes undertaken by both British Reaper drones and the UK’s dedicated strike aircraft, the Tornado. We now have 12 months of updates (Sept 14 – Aug 15) and while most but not all strikes have been included in these updates it does allow us to make some initial comparisons.
In a shocking statement made in the House of Commons this afternoon Prime Minster David Cameron announced that for the first time a British citizen, Reyaad Khan, has been targeted for assassination by a British drone. A second Briton, Ruhul Amin and a third unknown man were also killed in the strike. Cameron told the House:
Today I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision air strike carried out on 21st August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.
In addition to Reyaad Khan who was the target of the strike, two ISIL associates were also killed, one of whom – Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were ISIL fighters and I can confirm there were no civilian casualties.