Government refuses to say if UK pilots involved in Pakistan drone strikes

By agency reporter
September 14, 2015

The UK Government has refused to confirm whether UK pilots have been involved in flying covert US drone strikes over Pakistan, withholding the information requested by legal charity Reprieve on grounds of "international relations."

Reprieve had made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Ministry of Defence asking two questions: whether the UK had flown drone missions over Pakistan; and whether British pilots ‘embedded’ in US units had done so. While the UK Government confirmed that it had not itself conducted such strikes in response to the first question, it said it would ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) whether British embedded pilots had done so.

This position is at odds with recent comments made by the UK Defence Secretary to the effect that the Government would answer questions about the activities of embedded personnel when asked. In the wake of revelations that British pilots had flown strikes in Syrian territory while embedded with the US Air Force, Michael Fallon said that “if we are asked to give details [on embeds] we of course do so.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22053)

The new evidence of potential UK involvement in the US’ drone programme in Pakistan comes in the week of David Cameron’s announcement of a new UK ‘targeted killing’ policy which closely mirrors that carried out by the American Government. The US programme – which has been running for over a decade – has seen hundreds of strikes taken and hundreds of civilians killed. The latter is due in large part to faulty intelligence, which has seen strikes miss their intended target with the effect that individual alleged militants have often been reported ‘killed’ on multiple occasions.

The US programme – which is justified on the same basis as that of the UK, and carried out using the same technology – has also come in for heavy criticism from senior American defence and intelligence figures, who argue it has proved counter-productive. General Michael Flynn, former head of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, has described it as a “failed strategy”, while General Stanley McChrystal has warned it creates “ resentment” towards “American arrogance”.

The UK Government has consistently refused in the past to comment on drone strikes in Pakistan, saying that they are a matter for “the states involved.” For British personnel to have been involved in the strikes would go far beyond the picture of the drones programme that the Government has so far presented to the British public and Parliament.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer at Reprieve, said: “This refusal suggests that we may be embroiled in the CIA’s secret wars in far greater ways than was thought. Given the CIA’s drone programme in Pakistan has killed hundreds of civilians while operating without public accountability, that is cause for serious concern. What more don’t we know?”

“Numerous senior military and intelligence figures have warned that secret drone programmes of this kind can actually make the situation worse, not better. Before heading down this path, we need a real debate, and real answers from the PM. We need to think very carefully about whether giving our government carte blanche to kill people anywhere in the world, without oversight, is really a good idea.”

* Reprieve http://www.reprieve.org.uk/

[Ekk/4]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.