Call for clarity on use of UK drones by US forces

Churches are calling for the Ministry of Defence to clarify itsdeployment of UK drones in Afghanistan. A Defence Committee report,issued today, confirmed the likelihood of UK drones having beenused by US drone operators.

Leaders of the Methodist Church in Britain, the United ReformedChurch and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have backed a callmade in the Defence Committee report, urging the MoD to provideclarity on whether UK Reaper aircraft have been operated by USpersonnel. The Defence Committee report states that: "It isimportant that it is clear that UK aircraft have only been utilisedwithin Afghanistan and always in accordance with UK Rules ofEngagement."

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Churches' Joint PublicIssues Team, said: "The lack of accountability over civilian deathsfrom air strikes has been a serious concern in Afghanistan. UK andUS Rules of Engagement are likely to differ in some importantaspects. For example, the Defence Committee report states that theRoyal Air Force does not fire missiles from drones unless there isa zero expectation of civilian casualties. Once you hand control ofyour aircraft to another military, you have no say in how they willbe used."

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

Steve Hucklesby added: "Although the Ministry of Defence discloseslittle in the way of information on the UK use of drones, it seemslikely that our use of drones operates to a more 'precautionary'stance. However, it also appears that we then lend our aircraft outto others who operate to different standards. The MoD states thatUK 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 withno accountability to the British public."


  1. Defence Committee report. 2013 Annual Report on Protection ofCivilians in Armed Conflict; UNAMA Press Release here. 
  2. Defence Comm Report, released today.