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
Russia? Boris, Andrew: our government continues to aid or participate in killing civilians & suspects in several countries
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said that Russia is in danger of becoming a “pariah nation” if it continues to bomb civilian targets in Syria – is he absent -minded or hypocritical?
As Steve Schofield summarises, “Through invasion by ground forces and through air-strikes involving missiles and drones, the US/UK military axis has been responsible for the collapse of societies that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead or injured and millions more as refugees.
For years we have assaulted other countries, ruining infrastructure and killing civilians as well as untried suspects; a few examples:
- The FT in 2013 highlighted a report by Amnesty International which concluded that at least 19 civilians in North Waziristan had been killed by just two drone attacks. In July 18 casual labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.
- The Bureau of Investigation’s 2014 report: America’s drone war has secretly escalated; it noted that it took President Obama three years to publicly refer to his use of drones.
- In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.
- Agence France Presse reported from Afghanistan: Afghan officials said that a NATO airstrike Friday killed five civilians and wounded six others. District governor Mohammad Amin said, “At around 3:30 a.m., U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Aab Josh village of Baraki Barak district. The airstrike hit a residential house killing five and wounding six civilians”. Niaz Mohammad Amiri, Logar province’s acting governor, added, “U.S. forces were chasing down Taliban militants, but mistakenly bombarded a house. As a result, civilians were victims of the attack”.
- Edward Luce in the FT pointed out that there is no treaty governing the use of military drones as for the use of nuclear weapons. We summarised his article with added links to Rand Corporation and Stimson Centre.
- For almost ten years the Central Intelligence Agency has been able to strike targets with impunity. At the moment, Barack Obama orders drone assassinations without having to admit it, or explain himself to anyone. Hundreds of militants have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. But hundreds more civilians, perhaps thousands, have also been accidentally killed.
- Josie Ensor’s report from Istanbul says that a US air strike killed nearly 60 civilians, including children, in Syria after the coalition mistook them for Islamic State fighters. Some eight families were hit as they tried to flee in one of the single deadliest strikes on civilians by the alliance since the start of its operations in the war-torn country.
- A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres in northern Yemen, killing at least 11 people and wounding 19, the aid group said. And who is in the coalition? US and Britain have been deploying their military personnel in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, having access to lists of targets.
- The global charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters news agency that more than 40 civilians, including an eight-year-old in critical condition, were admitted to Abs Hospital after an air strike in the Mustaba district, a region largely controlled by the Iran-allied Houthi militia.
Stuart Richardson, Secretary of the Birmingham branch, offers the sanest contribution from Stop the War Coalition (StWC). StWC is opposing the calls for the implementation of “No-Fly Zones” – after the Libyan disaster – and calls for the bombing of the Assad regime by the RAF and allied air forces. It argues that the only solution is the withdrawal of Russia, US, UK and France leaving the Syrian people to determine their own future.
Thanks to a Moseley reader for the two leads.
The Argus reports that MP Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones (now in the Lords) are calling for answers on whether the Government has formulated a targeted policy and if so, what that policy is, and whether it is legal. Supported by human rights charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day, they are highlighting the lack of parliamentary approval for the Government’s adoption of the American style programme.
A Letter Before Action (LBA) was sent to the firm on behalf of the MP and the baroness highlighting a lack of consistency in justifications for the strikes and a lack of transparency.
Caroline Lucas said: “The Government appears to have adopted a ‘Kill Policy’ in secret –without Parliamentary debate or the prospect of proper independent scrutiny.
Sanctioning lethal drone attacks on British citizens is a significant departure from previous policy, as well as potentially unlawful, and it’s deeply concerning that it has occurred without appropriate oversight. By refusing to publish the legal basis for these attacks, the Government has created a legal and accountability vacuum. We need to be able to determine whether the attacks – and what they signify in terms of Government policy – meet the robust conditions set out in international and domestic law.”
They point out that the war will be carried out with the cruellest, most destructive and strategically most useless of weapons, the airborne bomb which is “now the all-purpose totemic answer to ‘something must be done’.
The futility of such interventions in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq again and Libya is pointed out by Simon Jenkins. He writes:
“There is no evidence of the drones’ strategic effectiveness. The killing of Pashtun militants has done nothing to halt the Taliban’s path back to power in Afghanistan. It has merely replaced possibly moderate elders with tribal hot-heads. Obama’s first drone attack in Yemen killed one al-Qaida suspect, 14 women and 21 children.
“In a six-year period to 2011 an estimated 3,000 innocents were killed in Pakistan alone, including 176 children. Such casual slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled and jailed. Drones are immune.
“For the past year, the skies over Syria and Iraq have seen the most devastating deployments of air power in recent times. There have been a reported 6,000 coalition air strikes, manned and unmanned. Some 20,000 bombs have been dropped.
“If ever in the past quarter century there was a clear humanitarian case for intervening to pacify, reorder and restore good governance to a failed state, it must be in Syria. Dropping bombs is politically cosmetic. It is trying to look good to a domestic audience; a cruel delusion, a pretence of humanity, ostentatious, immoral, stupid”.
UKIP MEP Gerard Batten told a Guardian journalist: “Christians aren’t blowing people up at the moment, are they? Are there any bombs going off round the world claimed by Christian organisations? I don’t think so.”
Mr Batten: for years the CIA in the nominally Christian United States has directed the dropping of bombs on civilians in Pakistan, Somalia and the Yemen.
You are referred to the latest figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/
Her unusual slant on localisation was extracted from the 24th Schumacher Lecture which she gave in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
She argues that supporting local business is more than a strategy for building resilient local economies:
“Perhaps the greatest benefit of the local-living-economy movement is that by creating self-reliance we are creating the foundations for world peace. If all communities had food security, water security, and energy security, if they appreciated diversity of culture rather than a monoculture, that would be the foundation for world peace. Schumacher said, ‘People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.’
As innocents die in Boston, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan, may sanity prevail!
Lest we forget: British guilt by association and collaboration as flunkies to the Lord High Executioner
A day after our last post summarising the FT’s Oil, blood and the west’s double standards, by Philip Stephens, Toby Harnden, US Executive Editor of the Mail Online, weighs in. He has form: see one review of his latest book, ‘Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan’:
As someone living with the after effects of the tour – my son was critically injured by an IED explosion – I thought this was an excellent (if difficult) read. Toby pulls no punches in his narrative. The MOD should hang their heads in shame. Under resourced and poorly equipped The Guards were up against it. Their spirit and determination shine through and the humour is palpable.
People asked me didn’t I get angry when my son was injured? At the time I was just incredibly thankful he was still with us, now reading the catalogue of failings and complete ineptitude of the “top brass” I am feeling anger. Anger on behalf of the families of those who didn’t make it back, they lost so much and their lives changed forever, and on a lesser scale, anger for those (and there are many), like my son, whose lives and future will be such an ongoing struggle.
MOD – read and be shamed by your penny pinching, your internal politics, and your incompetence in managing scarce resources. Resources, I might add, that would have saved lives. Lt Colonel Thornaloe was right to criticise the lack of helicopters. The low metal content IED’s put every single soldier at risk on a daily basis. Resupply missions by road, based on the IED threat? Justify that if you can.
Toby Harnden writes: “So much for that Nobel Peace Prize!” before terming the man who studied St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas’ Just War theory as ‘Lord High Executioner’.
President Obama receives his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009
Harnden surmises that “as increasing numbers of America’s critics – and many Americans themselves – begin to question Obama’s eagerness to use drones to kill the guilty and innocent, the Nobel Prize committee may already be regretting its decision”.
Recounting that at meetings held in the Situation Room in the White House, chaired by President Barack Obama and including up to two dozen intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, Obama pronounces on the fate of each suspect group “like a latter-day Roman emperor sitting in life-or-death judgment on his gladiators”, he continues:
“Those receiving the metaphorical thumbs-down are condemned to be blown to pieces in some distant, dusty corner of Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen by a Hellfire missile or GBU-12 smart bomb launched from a CIA Reaper drone and controlled thousands of miles away back in the U.S.
“Indeed, Predator and Reaper drones have revolutionised the terms of military combat – leaving the enemy with almost nowhere to hide. A single USAF pilot stationed in Nevada can drive home and sit down for supper with his family just a few hours after killing dozens of people in Pakistan by using a remote-control aircraft.”
Harnden points out that Obama entered the White House, “having vilified Bush and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, as gun-slinging warmongers whose authorisation of Guantanamo torture, extraordinary rendition flights (the extrajudicial transfer of suspects from one country to another) and the CIA’s secret ‘black site’ prisons had besmirched America’s reputation.”
He notes Senator Obama’s explanation of the 9/11 attacks as being due to ‘a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers’ and that this grew from ‘a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair’ and his voiced intention to raise ‘the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe’ while ensuring ‘that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad’.
In opposition, Obama opposed the detention without trial of suspects at Guantanamo bay, but has since become willing to continue rendition flights and secret tribunals but as President, he preserved the options of rendition flights, secret military tribunals and indefinite detention without trial, escalated “an assassination programme that ensured few interrogations would need to take place”.
Video footage of dead children, as well as tribesmen displaying parts of U.S. missiles, probably helped the Al Qaeda cause, doing more damage to America’s image than if its target had been allowed to live.
Though Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, did not pose a direct threat to the U.S. Obama approved his assassination, though he knew his family would also die. Similarly, a drone attack in Yemen in December 2009 killed not only the target, but two innocent families.
Reporting growing widespread criticism of Obama’s actions across the U.S, Harnden quotes satirist Stephen Colbert merciless lampooning of Obama’s tactics. ‘It’s brilliant!’ he said with heavy irony. ‘He doesn’t have to worry about habeas corpus, because after a drone strike, sometimes you can’t even find the corpus. The only problem is, occasionally our drones kill civilians.’
The appalling final words: the posthumous innocent
“Perhaps most disturbing, the Obama administration addressed the issue of civilian casualties by classifying all military-age males in a strike zone as ‘terrorists’ unless, as the New York Times put it, ‘there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent’.”