Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
The right-wing press, neoliberal politicians and corporates in Britain such as Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Tory MP Mark Pritchard and Labour MP Frank Field, are firmly attached to the US-led global order which attempts to impose its will by propaganda and force – generally in oil rich countries like Venezuela. As MP Chris Williamson pointed out in his recent Newsnight interview, the US has a track record of interference at all levels, including military overthrow of inconvenient governments, in Latin America.
They have led repeated attacks on an absent Jeremy Corbyn for failing to cheer the US-led destabilisation of Venezuela. Labour List, which is clearly backing the Blairite wing, referred to ‘Nicolas Maduro’s violent suppression after a dirty election’. The Sun’s dig:
On his return, Mr Corbyn said: “I’m very sad at the lives that have been lost in Venezuela. The people who have died, either those on the streets or security forces that have been attacked by people on the street — all of those lives are terrible for the loss of them.” Repeatedly pressed to condemn Mr Maduro’s actions, he said: “What I condemn is the violence that’s been done by any side, by all sides, in all this. Violence is not going to solve the issue”, adding:
“We also have to recognise that there have been effective and serious attempts at reducing poverty in Venezuela, improving literacy and improving the lives of many of the poorest people.”
Using record-high oil revenues of the 2000s, the government nationalized key industries, created participatory democratic Communal Councils, and implemented social programs to expand access to food, housing, healthcare, and education. Venezuela used its oil revenue to make improvements in poverty, literacy, income equality, and quality of life.
James Tweedie effectively put the record straight in an interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme on 7th August, with the usually combative presenter failing to challenge even one of the facts he presented. In that and a recent article he made many points. Some of these follow:
- The opposition is led by representatives of wealthy families that have never been reconciled to losing power to a government committed to raising the majority from abject poverty.
- Tactics include factory-owners stopping production of products to create shortages in the shops. Food distribution giant Polar is accused by Mr Maduro’s government of orchestrating the food shortages that led to the current crisis, by hoarding stocks in its warehouses. Actions include blocking main roads, shutting down public transport networks and forcing shops to stay closed — exacerbating the shortages of food, medicines and other goods the opposition blame on the government. On Thursday night rioters burned some 40 tons of food out of 100 at a government distribution centre in eastern Anzoategui state destined for distribution to hungry families.
- Opposition supporters building barricades, blocking streets and attacking police during the constituent assembly election are routinely described in our mainstream media as “peaceful protesters”, though, as Sky News footage revealed, masked men were dressed in helmets, carrying full body shields carrying firearms and a roadside bomb blasting police motorcyclists.
The use of fire is a prime opposition weapon
- The opposition tactics are to engage in violent protests that force responses by the government and make the Maduro government look like an authoritarian regime.
- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are taking a simplistic view of the intensifying crisis in Venezuela, ignoring appalling acts of opposition violence such as those detailed in this site which brings Spanish-language news in English.
- The country overwhelmingly believes the opposition lacks a plan for dealing with high inflation and the lack of state revenue for social services. They also oppose the violent tactics of the opposition (see poll results).
- The opposition agreed to take part in Vatican-mediated negotiations with the government but walked away from talks, adopting a new strategy of violent street confrontations to destabilise society.
- After all the executives of Smartmatic, an electronic voting company, left the country its CEO claimed at a press conference that the 8.1 million turnout figure in Sunday’s National Constituent Assembly election had been “tampered with” and inflated by about a million votes. No such report had been made to the Venezuelan authorities. (Smartmatic is owned by former MP Baron Mark Malloch-Brown, who has close links to George Soros – a major funder of New York-based Human Rights Watch and longstanding critic of Venezuela’s socialist government).
True socialism has been advancing in Britain over the past two years with Labour’s gains in the June election on an anti-austerity manifesto and the increasing public respect for Corbyn as leader. We can see, on the horizon, rejection of the current form of Western intervention which has gained adherents for extremist groups, destabilising many of the world’s regions, followed by collaboration with others to undertake the monumental task of rebuilding and reconciliation.
Now thrive the armourers: unrepentant ‘special friends’, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United States
Though cluster bombs were banned under international law in 2008, Amnesty International has found a UK-manufactured cluster bomb in Yemen and, according to Defense News, the United States has sold Riyadh cluster bombs and millions of dollars’ worth of training, information gathering, weapons and aerial refuelling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
The International Business Times reports that for over a year, Human Rights Watch has recorded attacks on Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, killing civilians and destroying homes, schools and hospitals. They have used cluster bombs, which scatter explosive ‘bomblets’ across a wide area and eject a stream of molten metal designed to pierce metal armour as they detonate. After this, they explode into thousands of fragments killing and maiming all in the vicinity. If they don’t explode on impact, they become a danger to civilians on the ground. More on the technology here.
Amnesty International calls on the British government, which has rejected claims that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has violated the laws of war during its conflict in Yemen:
- to stop the UK selling arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that could be used in the Yemen conflict;
- to launch an immediate inquiry into how UK cluster bombs ended up in Yemen and
- to ensure the Saudi Arabia-led coalition destroys all remaining stocks of UK cluster munitions.
Has the Obama administration blocked sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia?
A few days later, Defense News and many other media outlets reported that the Obama administration has moved to block sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, amid reports of mounting civilian casualties there. However no link was given and a search for the report in the named journal Foreign Policy found no reference on its site.
(Update, reader Felicity Arbuthnot found a link in another sticle: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/27/exclusive-white-house-blocks-transfer-of-cluster-bombs-to-saudi-arabia – subscription only).
This move is said to follow rising criticism by U.S. lawmakers of America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s role in the year-long Yemeni conflict – not because of concern about the civilian casualties and infrastructure damage inflicted, but, it is alleged, due to increasing disappointment at the Saudis’ failure to do more to fight the militants of the Islamic State group in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.