Churches call for clarity on use of UK drones by US forces

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Churches are calling for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to clarify its deployment of UK drones in Afghanistan. A Defence Committee report, issued yesterday (25 March), confirmed the likelihood of UK drones having been used by US drone operators.

Leaders of the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have backed a call made in the Defence Committee report, urging the MoD to provide clarity on whether UK Reaper aircraft have been operated by US personnel. The Defence Committee report states that: “It is important that it is clear that UK aircraft have only been utilised within Afghanistan and always in accordance with UK Rules of Engagement.”

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Churches’ Joint Public Issues Team, said: “The lack of accountability over civilian deaths from air strikes has been a serious concern in Afghanistan. UK and US Rules of Engagement are likely to differ in some important aspects. For example, the Defence Committee report states that the Royal Air Force does not fire missiles from drones unless there is a zero expectation of civilian casualties. Once you hand control of your aircraft to another military, you have no say in how they will be used.”

The United Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that in 2013 there were 182 civilian deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan. Women and children comprised almost half of these deaths. It is not known how many of these deaths were caused by drones, or how many were a result of by US air operations as opposed to UK air strikes. UNAMA suggest that the civilian death toll indicates the need for further review by international forces of pre-engagement considerations and precautionary measures.

Steve Hucklesby added: “Although the Ministry of Defence discloses little in the way of information on the UK use of drones, it seems likely that our use of drones operates to a more ‘precautionary’ stance. However, it also appears that we then lend our aircraft out to others who operate to different standards. The MoD states that UK drones have not been used by the US in Pakistan. Nevertheless, it seems that we do permit the use of UK drones by US forces with no accountability to the British public.”

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