The news that the UK is doubling its drone deployment in Afghanistan (New drones in Afghanistan to be controlled from Britain, 23 October) raises some important questions that the British public needs to have answered. What rules of engagement currently govern the deployment of weaponised UK drones and who determines them? What influence will the US maintain over UK drone missions? Will UK deployment be confined to Afghan territory, or might cross-border strike missions be undertaken? If the MoD “has no idea how many insurgents have died [in UK drone strikes] because of the ‘immense difficulty and risks’ of verifying who has been hit”, how can they state categorically that “only four Afghan civilians have been killed” since 2008?
The announcement that the current five UK Reapers have already flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan makes the escalation to 10 even more shocking. Parliament must assert a central role in publicly monitoring current and future deployment of UK drones to ensure there is no mission creep – President Obama’s cavalier programme of distance slaughter cannot be replicated in UK conduct. If we kill as many innocent civilians as the CIA reportedly has, we shall surely reap what we sow.
• This move reflects an incredibly disturbing trend in UK military policy. There has been no public debate or consultation about drone warfare, but the use of these unmanned killing machines has grown rapidly. While they purportedly allow for targeted, surgically precise strikes, recent reports have condemned the widespread killing of civilians – including hundreds of children – by drones. For the British public, it should also be disconcerting that RAF Waddington will be the new home for such remotely piloted violence. The distance afforded by unmanned aerial vehicles separates the military personnel guiding them from the arena of conflict in ways which we are only beginning to understand. Through such distorted interactions, a cheapening of the human impact of these vehicles – and the resultant civilian casualties – is inevitable. This decision represents a complete disregard for international law and innocent lives.
General secretary, CND
• With regard to the moral aspect of the use of such weapons, I am reminded of the response of Bill Westwood, the late bishop of Peterborough, to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945. As a young paratrooper stationed in Sri Lanka awaiting deployment in the proposed invasion of Japan, he noted that the loss of life was going to be horrendous, given the Japanese renown for not surrendering. When asked later what he thought at the time, he said that while he didn’t know what the atomic bomb was, he was relieved that he would not now be invading Japan. While the use of these drones is subject to debate, perhaps what little can be taken by the use of this weapon is that fewer UK troops engaged in fighting in Afghanistan will die while we remain in theatre.
• It is vital the suggestion that British support for US drone strikes “may be a war crime” is raised urgently (Report, 24 October). The increasing use of drones, not only by the US, but Israel, France and now the UK, raises questions of legitimacy not covered adequately by the present Geneva convention. Two weeks ago, Medact (a charity concerned about the impact of war on people’s health) launched a report, Drones – The Physical and Psychological Implications of a Global Theatre of War. It examines the devastating impact of drone warfare on the health of those in areas where they are deployed. Drone warfare has the attraction for the belligerent nation of providing the means to conduct war at arm’s length and thus avoid endangering its own soldiers. Many other countries are also now researching drone warfare, and a rapid proliferation of their use will have far wider implications than even nuclear proliferation itself.
It is vital our government develops policies to cover this new type of warfare in accordance with Geneva convention guidelines before it becomes another scourge of humanity, profiting only the powerful armaments manufacturers.
• We need to add the US base at NSA Menwith Hill to the list of concerns. There are GCHQ personnel at NSA Menwith Hill and this base plays a crucial role in “intelligence-led warfare”. You don’t have to be too smart to make the connections. Recently, Fabian Hamilton MP asked the defence secretary whether RAF Menwith Hill played a role in the planning and deployment of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The answer? “For operational and security reasons we do not comment on the specific activities carried out at RAF Menwith Hill.” It is wrong that the UK government hides behind this “operational and security” blanket. The bottom line is whether what the UK government is complicit with at either NSA Menwith Hill or RAF Waddington is legal and accountable.
Joint co-ordinator, Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases
• According to your report, between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan from coalition drone attacks between June 2004 and mid-September 2012 – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The UK is spending £4bn of taxpayers’ money on developing more of these drones, which I cannot recall being debated by and agreed on by parliament. These weapons are breaking international and humanitarian laws and fostering a video game mentality in warfare. Future wars will be fought not by people in the frontline but by remote-controlled killing machines. This type of warfare increases the sanitisation of conflict in which aggressors avoid taking moral responsibility for their actions.