At Defence Questions yesterday (13 March), the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, confirmed suspicions that the UK strike in Syria in December 2022 was a British drone targeted killing. Choosing his words carefully, Wallace told the House of Commons:
“I want to update the House on a strike that took place a few weeks ago, as is our agreement on strikes under Operation Shader. In late December, an RAF Reaper remotely piloted aircraft conducted a strike against a leading Daesh member in al-Bab, northern Syria. The individual’s activity was related to chemical and biological weapons. The Reaper’s crew minimised potential risk to civilians before firing two Hellfire missiles, both of which struck the target accurately. These actions are vital to degrading such terrorist threats, protecting British citizens and supporting our international partners.”
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had issued a short update two days after the strike:
“On Tuesday 20 December, a Reaper remotely piloted aircraft kept close observation on a building near Al Bab in northern Syria where at least one active Daesh terrorist was known to be present. Great care was taken to ensure that any potential risks to civilians were understood and minimised before the Reaper’s crew fired a salvo of two Hellfire missiles which both struck the target accurately.”
Local sources reported at the time that two civilians – a woman and child – were injured in the strike and that one individual, a Yemeni national and ISIS commander was either severely injured or killed (see Airwars round-up of media reporting on the strike). He was named locally by his nom de guerre of Abu Yasser al-Yemeni.
The local civilian civil defence force, know as the White Helmets, shared footage of the aftermath of the strike showing the house completely demolished.
Drone Wars submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the MoD in January asking if an investigation was underway into the reports of civilian casualties arising from the strike. The MoD has refused to answer the request citing national security and international relations exemptions. We have submitted an appeal. Read more