Ministers refuse to reveal target of new RAF killer drone missions


Britain is running secret missions involving drones previously used to target and kill terrorist suspects in Iraq and Syria.

The Ministry of Defence is refusing to reveal the nature or location of the operation involving RAF Reapers, which can be armed with Hellfire missiles, leading to calls for greater parliamentary oversight of Britain’s drone programme.

Following a freedom of information request, the MoD confirmed that Reaper drones are flying missions outside Operation Shader, which targets Isis in Iraq and Syria. Since Afghanistan, there has only been one RAF Reaper mission of this type – the killing of the Isis recruiter Reyaad Khan in Syria in 2015. There were questions about the legality and proportionality of his killing.

It is thought that the secret missions could be taking place in Syria or Iraq but outside the remit of Operation Shader. A second theory is that the drones are supporting Royal Navy operations monitoring shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. A third possibility is that they are operating in the Sahel region of north Africa, where British forces are due to be deployed this summer.

“The government must reveal where British Reaper drone sorties are taking place, the purpose of those operations, and whether any strikes have occurred,” said Chris Cole of the campaign group Drone Wars UK. “Due to their unique capabilities, particularly how they enable targeted killing operations and appear to be lowering the threshold for the use of force, there is a strong argument now that all deployments of the UK’s armed drones should be subject to parliamentary approval.”

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An MoD spokesman said: “The location and number of sorties flown outside of Operation Shader is withheld under FoI Exemptions Section 26 – Defence – and Section 27 – International Relations.

“If released, the information would provide the public with greater understanding of the operations of Reaper. However, it could put sensitive and protected individuals on operations at risk, providing the adversary with an advantage.”

Drone Wars has published a new report questioning whether the RAF has become too dependent on the US for its unmanned aircraft programme. RAF personnel are embedded with US Air Force’s 432nd Wing which flies Reapers.

“It is more vital than ever that there is increased transparency over UK drone operations and UK-US joint working,” Cole said. “This would provide evidence to demonstrate that the UK is operating an independent military drone programme which complies with international law.”



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