UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox is under pressure to publish information about civilian deaths caused by remote-controlled weapons in Afghanistan.
Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, known as drones, that allow bombs and missiles to be fired from a control room thousands of miles away. UK drones are fired in Afghanistan by operators just outside Las Vegas.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), a Christian NGO, urged the government to publish information about the use of drones and the casualties involved.
“Armed drones involve a form of playstation warfare and risk creating a culture of convenient killing,” insisted FoR's Amy Hailwood, “Drones reduce the physical and mental distance between operator and target and are likely to lower the threshold for launching an attack”.
Conservative estimates suggest that US drones in Pakistan kill one civilian for every two combatants, but the Ministry of Defence has refused to release any figures about the UK's own drones.
“These robotic weapons deserve much greater public scrutiny,” said Hailwood, “The government must address the accountability vacuum by releasing information about drone attacks and the casualties incurred”.
Drone use has risen sharply since 2001. The UK government has deployed three Reaper drones in Afghanistan, while other drones intended for UK forces are in development by BAE Systems. The UK also rents Hermes 450 drones from Israel on a 'pay-by-the-hour' basis.
In July 2010, leaked government documents revealed that the British Reaper drone had by that point been fired 97 times in Afghanistan.
In addition, the US budget allocation for drones increased from $1.7 billion in 2006 to $4.2 billion in 2010. Eyewitness reports suggest that drones were used extensively by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2009.
FoR will release a report on the use of drones at the Drone Wars conference in London on 18th September.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation is a spiritually-based movement committed to active nonviolence as a means of personal, social, economic and political transformation.