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
Bargain: we won’t talk about your issues with Tibet, workers’ rights etc if you ignore our invasions, our displacement of Chagossians and illegal executions by drone
As the government ‘scrambles’ (the Nikkei-FT’s expression) to agree a number of Chinese inward investment deals, involving infrastructure, high tech, banking and other financial services for official signing ceremonies, Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, has warned that the Chinese president would not take kindly to being reprimanded on human rights during his visit.
Mr Xi Jinping will spend four nights in Britain next week, visiting Buckingham Palace, giving a speech at Westminster and visiting the City of London and Manchester. He is to make a speech at Guildhall next Wednesday at which it is hoped he will set out how he hopes to make London the global centre for offshore Chinese finance.
In contrast with more excitable accounts (Corbyn threatens), the FT reports that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to raise the issue next week at a private meeting with the Labour leader.
“We don’t shy away from talking about human rights,” Mr Liu told a press briefing. “What we are against is to use human rights to interfere with other countries’ internal affairs and to try to impose your own system on to others.”
The tabloid press hoping for eyecatching headlines and unflattering photographs of a clash when Xi and Corbyn meet at the state banquet will probably be disappointed. Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said the Labour leader would express his views “in the appropriate way”.