According to figures obtained from the ministry of defence (MoD) by Drone Wars UK in January and February 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), unmanned British Reaper drones launched 457 weapons over Afghanistan up to the end of 2013. A further 39 launches (during 250 missions) were made using US drones up to the end of December 2012.
In what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead parliament, the MoD neglected to mention the latter strikes when asked ‘how many unmanned aerial vehicle strikes have been conducted by the UK since operations commenced in Afghanistan’, in a November 2012 parliamentary question. At the time these represented at least 10 percent of the drone strikes carried out by British pilots.
In April 2013, the MoD finally admitted that, between October 2006 and December 2012, RAF pilots had flown 2,150 missions using US Reaper and Predator drones in Afghanistan and Libya, as well as an unstated – but non-zero – number of missions in Iraq (it had previously denied flying any such missions over Iraq).
However, in February 2014, the MoD rejected Drone Wars UK’s April 2013 request to know ‘how many weapons were launched during these operations broken down into country’ on the grounds that ‘to do so, would undermine the relationship of trust that exists between the UK and other countries.’
It is not known how many strikes UK pilots made using US drones in 2013. Likewise, there are no figures – official or otherwise – for the number of people killed by British drone strikes in Afghanistan, though the MoD maintains that only four civilians have been killed.