Drone terrorism

IssueApril 2013
News by Gabriel Carlyle

As peace activists prepare for the first national demonstration at the UK’s new drone base in Lincolnshire on 27 April, new information has emerged regarding British complicity in US drone strikes in Africa, and the UN has condemned the CIA’s deadly drone warfare in Pakistan.

In mid-March, Ben Emmerson QC, the UN special rapporteur for counter-terrorism and human rights, made a three-day trip to Pakistan.

On 15 March, Emmerson issued a statement declaring that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan – which have reportedly killed up to 3,577 people – were ‘counter-productive, contrary to international law, a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’. He added: ‘they should cease immediately.’

Emmerson noted that Pakistani officials ‘stated that reports of continuing tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory by any other State are false, and confirmed that a thorough search of Government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given’, and drew attention to public statements by Pakistan at the UN calling for an immediate end to the use of drones over their territory.

According to Emmerson, drone attacks in Waziristan were ‘radicalising a new generation’.

From Croughton to Djibouti

Meanwhile, redacted documents obtained by the Mail on Sunday have revealed that British Telecom has been contracted to provide a secure military communications link between USAF Croughton in Oxfordshire (nominally an RAF base) and the Pentagon’s African drone HQ, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

As Chris Cole notes in his invaluable blog, Drone Wars UK, the existence of such a link ‘shows that Croughton and [USAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire] are no doubt involved in analysing information and video from US drone flights in [North Africa]. It is also possible that information obtained in this way, and analysed by US personnel in the UK, could be used to direct further US drone strikes.’

Traumatised children

US drones piloted from Djibouti have been used to bomb Yemen, where at least 200 – and perhaps as many as 768 – people have been killed in such attacks since 2002.

On 7 March, Dr Peter Schaapveld, an expert in trauma assessment, presented his findings on the psychological impact of these attacks to the house of commons’ all-party parliamentary group on drones.

Dr Schaapveld, who visited Yemen on behalf of the human rights group Reprieve, interviewed 34 people, of whom 28 provided information that he was confident was of ‘scientific value’.

Of these 28, 71% were suffering from ‘full-blown’ post-traumatic stress disorder, and 90% ‘had symptoms’.

‘What I saw in Yemen was deeply disturbing. Entire communities – including young children who are the next generation of Yemenis – are being traumatised and re-traumatised by drones,’ he explained.

Shaapveld cited the case of an eight-year-old girl who lived next door to a house targeted in a presumed drone strike. ‘Her father said that she vomits every day, and also when she hears aircraft, or drones, or anything related.’

Schaapveld said that some of the young men he saw felt that they were being driven towards al-Qa’eda by the attacks.

365 strikes

The Mail on Sunday also quoted several other documents, including one ‘request[ing] US security-cleared staff to work at RAF Waddington on a USAF drone called the Predator’ and another ‘describ[ing] a role for a communications technician at the same base “supporting 24/7 operations of critical real-time USAF/ANG [Air National Guard] mission operations”’.

RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire is currently being readied to operate British Reaper drones over Afghanistan (see PN 2552).

According to Chris Cole, while these excerpts do not mean that the US is operating drones out of Waddington (as the Mail on Sunday implied) they do ‘confirm that the USAF is sharing information with the RAF and no doubt vice versa.’

According to the latest figures from the ministry of defence (MoD), the RAF launched 365 drone strikes in Afghanistan between May 2008 (the month of the first attack) and 31 January 2013 – though the MoD still claims that only four civilians have been killed in these attacks (see PN 2552).