UK air war in Middle East continues with no end in sight

UK aircraft and drones have carried out almost 120 air strikes in Iraq and Syria since the fall of ISIS in March 2019

The latest response to our quarterly FoI request to the Ministry of Defence on UK armed air operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria brings us up to two full years since the end of ISIS’ so-called Caliphate in March 2019.

The figures give a glimpse of continuing UK air operations in the Middle East  but with a significant hole in the middle. Although the government has confirmed the RAF Reapers are now also undertaking operations outside of those against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they continue to refuse to give any details of those missions.  All the MoD will say is that “the UK Reaper fleet is currently based in the Middle Eastern Region.”

The latest figures for Operation Shader (we’ve updated our summary here) show that the UK is fast approaching 10,000 armed air missions in Iraq and Syria since the launch of operations in 2014. Of those, just over a fifth (2,203) have taken place since Kurdish forces overran ISIS’ last stronghold – the village of Baghuz in Eastern Syria – in March 2019. Roughly two-thirds of UK armed air missions in Iraq since March 2019 have been conducted by RAF Reapers with a third by Typhoons, while in Syria it almost the exact reverse, with just a third of UK Syria missions being carried out by UK drones.  Read more

Turkey’s unprecedented ascent to drone superpower status

  • In this special Long Read, guest writer Samuel Brownsword lays out the rise of Turkey as a drone superpower, as well as its increasing use of armed drones, both within and without its borders.
President Erdogan poses with Bayraktar drone

In late February 2020, at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province which Ankara blamed on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, although many suspected that it was in fact carried out by Russian forces.  At the time, those monitoring events in Syria feared that the attack could trigger a direct confrontation between Turkey and Russia, a supporter of Assad. Events leading up to this incident had already strained relations between the two countries and threatened to rupture defence, energy, and trade links. However, Ankara’s response not only marked the beginning of a new stage in the Syrian civil war, but yet another escalation in global drone warfare.  Read more

A bloody month in the drone wars: 7 separate drone strikes kill dozens of civilians across 4 war zones

November 2019 saw seven civilian casualties incidents from drone strikes in four different war-zones illustrating the growing spread of drone warfare. The seven strikes between them are thought to have killed  41 civilians including 11 children.

Proponents of the use of armed drones often argue that drones are better at warfare as they can  sit above the ‘fog and friction’ of war and therefore limit the harm to civilians as they have a better view of the ground.  The reality, however, is that drones appear to be transferring the risk of warfare away from combatants onto the shoulders of civilians.

These seven strikes in the month of November are just a snapshot of the impact of drone warfare on civilians.  However, the likelihood is that civilians will continue to be killed unless there is progress at the international level on controlling the proliferation and use of armed drones. Read more

UK drones more likely to target individuals than infrastructure data analysis reveals

Drone video showing ISIS fighter with children in Iraq.*

Examination of UK air strike data from the past two years shows that British unmanned drones have been used far more often to attack individuals on the ground in Iraq and Syria than the UK’s other strike aircraft, the Tornado or the Typhoon.

Analysis of reports published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the two years up until September 2019 show Reaper drones launched two-thirds (67%) of the 110 strikes at ISIS fighters in the open while other aircraft were used far more often to launch attacks on buildings, fighting positions, strong-points and other infrastructure. Half of all UK Reaper attacks (51%) were targeted at individuals on the ground compared to only 10% of Tornado and Typhoon strikes. Altogether, Reapers launched 29% of the UK’s strikes in this two-year period.

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UK ops in Iraq and Syria: Reaper drones likely to play an increasing part says senior RAF officer

The latest response to our Freedom of Information requests on British air and drone operations in Iraq and Syria show a marked decline in UK air and drone strikes in Syria since December 2018. (See our stats page for full update) Altogether, British drones and manned aircraft fired 189 missiles and bombs in the final three months of 2018 compared with 69 in the first three months of 2019 – a drop of 63%. Read more

Latest FoI release from MoD shows extent of UK air and drone war in Syria

The rise in UK air and drone strikes in Syria since September 2018 has been laid bare in the MoD’s latest responses to a Drone Wars UK FoI request. The number of British strikes in Syria per month rose to its highest ever amount (75) in December 2018. Overall, the UK launched 244 air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria during 2018, firing 512 munitions. Between 2014 and the end of 2018, the UK has fired more than 4,100 missiles and bombs in a total of 1,925 strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  You can see the details on our stats page here. Read more