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On 3 July, the ministry of defence (MoD) announced that the five Reaper drones – purchased as an ‘Urgent Operational Requirement’ in 2010, at the cost of roughly £100m – had finally begun operations in Afghanistan. According to MoD figures obtained by Drone Wars UK under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI), RAF pilots fired 15 Hellfire missiles from drones in Afghanistan in the first four months of 2014 – 11 from UK drones, and four from US drones.
On 22 July, Drone Wars UK’s appeal against the MoD’s refusal to answer two FoI requests about UK drones is set to reach the Upper Tribunal, the highest level of the FoI process in the UK.
The two requests – first filed in 2012 – concerned: ‘the date and province within Afghanistan of each weapon launch’ by UK drones; and how many of these weapon firings were pre-planned and how many were carried out ‘on the fly’. An earlier appeal against the MoD’s refusal was rejected last year on the manifestly absurd grounds that releasing the information would involve ‘risk to [service personnel’s] life and limb’ – and even the justification for this conclusion was withheld (see PN 2564-2565).
The information commissioner had earlier concluded that the information sought ‘would provide a clear insight into how [drones] had been used by British forces since 2008’ – a more plausible explanation for the continued refusal.
Meanwhile the British army has begun training with the UK’s new Watchkeeper drone over Salisbury Plain, apparently desperate to deploy it to Afghanistan and have it ‘combat proved’ before the end of British military operations there.
Fears that the British government will then redeploy its armed drones to Africa (see PN 2566) without even consulting MPs have prompted the chair of the all parliamentary group on drones, Tom Watson (Labour), to table an early day motion (136) calling on the government to state that the house of commons will have an opportunity to debate the ‘use of drones outside Afghanistan, whether or not they are operated from the UK and to publish a statement of criteria articulating the legal basis and circumstances in which the UK may commit to military intervention of any sort’.
Gabriel Carlyle is the PN War News editor. Encourage your MP to sign EDM 136:
International week of action against drones from 4–11 October: