Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Airstrikes killing Civilians

BFTF found his blood boilig as he read an article in The Guardian describing how, in complete contrast to US claims, airstrikes were killing many innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

A single quote from the story (written by a representive of the Reprieve charity) will suffice to explain what is happening:
"During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west...Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee."

Also read this article in the Independent on the "Living Under Drones" report by researchers at Stanford University. The researchers make a number of points, including:

Between 2004 and 2012 drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Drones strike without warning, their presence terrorizes men, women, and children - and the US practice of striking one area multiple times, sometimes killing rescuers makes rescuers afraid to assist injured victims.

The report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US.
Most importantly, the report makes a series of recommendation, including:

Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan.

Make public the tar­geting criteria and the mechanisms to track and publicly recognize civilian casualties.

Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, as called for by the UN Special Rapporteur.

BFTF sent emails to the local conservative party, the local (Labour) MP and to David Cameron (the latter being more in hope than in expectation) saying that the silence of the UK on this issue was unacceptable and was not in keeping with the values that BFTF thought the UK stood for. And asking whether killing innocent civilians decreases or increases the risk of radicalism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also sent emails to local masjids asking whether they could also lobby on this issue.

Local Conservative Party
Chased up on 8th Sep, 9th Oct(also asking how they were speaking out against "double tap" airstrike killings, 23rd Oct, 29th Oct. Finally received a response from Andrew Robathan MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces (via local Conservative party who had (BFTF understands) chased this up a number of times:

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the policy of United States government and I am unable to set out the specific circumstances in which insurgents of terrorists have been or would be targeted by UK Remotely Piloted Air Systems, as to do so could undermine operational security....... ...The selection and prosecution of all ISAF targets is based on a rigorous scrutiny process which is also compliant with International Humanitarian Law... ...Every effort is made to minimise the risk of collateral damage, particularly civilian causalities, which includes in some circumstances deciding not to engage the target...
Regarding the above communication from Andrew Robathan, BFTF sent the following back to the local Conservative party pointing out that they had failed to answer the two questions put to them :

Whether killing innocent civilians decreases or increases the risk of radicalism in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

What the Conservative Party was doing to speak out against the policy of "double tap" drone killings?
Local Labour MP
Chased up on 9th Oct, 23rd Oct, 29th Oct. Received response around 1st Nov saying that, although the MP had not been aware of the issue, they took it "very seriously", that the Labour Party had spoken out on the damamge that drones were causing to American/Pakistani relations and that the MP found the reports of strikes on first responders "deeply concerning".

The MP further stated that they had written to the Foreign Office to ask what representations had been made to the American Government on this issue and what assessment they had made of the practice.

Also received the following (via local MP) response from Government regarding "double tap" airstrikes. It essentially ignored the issue, the key part saying:

"The British Government's position is that the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles against terrorist targets is a matter for the states concerned. We expect all concerned to act in accordance with international law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting military operations."

Also received a response referencing a Parliamentary question laid down by Tom Watson, Deputy Chair of the Labour Party and member of the Shadow Cabinet on 6th Nov 2012.

Tom Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his Department’s policy is on follow-up drone strikes; and what steps he is taking to ensure that rescue workers and people providing assistance to the injured are not targeted as part of such missions.

Andrew Robathan : Any weapon released by the UK’s Reaper remotely piloted air system is done so under the command of a pilot bounded by Rules of Engagement which are no different from those used for manned UK combat aircraft. The targets are always positively identified as legitimate military objectives, and strikes are prosecuted in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict and UK Rules of Engagement. Strikes should not be directed against non-combatants, including any individuals assisting the wounded or deceased, or individuals who are “hors de combat”.
and also referencing a very moving and passionate speech by Yasmin Queshi MP(LAB), part of a debate on unmanned aerial vehicles secured by Rehman Chisti MP:
Yasmin Queshi MP : ...I have constituents of Pakistani Kashmiri and Afghan heritage, and they have several times come to see me, and written many e-mails and letters to me, about drone attacks, especially as some of them have family members living in the relevant parts of Pakistan—Waziristan and other areas. They have told me in person about the effects of drone attacks. They ask, “How would you feel if you were asleep at night and suddenly you heard drone attacks—buildings being destroyed and people being killed: you would not know from day to day what would happen. One minute you are peacefully asleep in bed, and the next an attack is happening.” How would we like that—if people were asleep in Bolton, for example, and that were to happen, with the deaths of young children as well as adults, including old people. Much has been made of the shooting of young Malala, but there are many other young Malalas in that part of the world—and young boys, too, and families being destroyed...

... the evidence increasingly shows that drones are being targeted not at specific people but randomly, that they are being controlled, in America, not by the army but the CIA, and that there are successive strikes with more than one hit in the same place. That cannot be right. I am sorry if I sound very passionate about this, but thousands of innocent lives have been taken in Pakistan and Afghanistan—and in Yemen and elsewhere, although I do not have many constituents from there. I can talk more about Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the most intensive drone use has been.

There are ways to fight a battle, but we must abide by international law. I am grateful that an investigation is being carried out by the UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, on whether the use of drones is legal, and I wonder whether the Minister will also welcome that. If it is found that they are illegal, will we desist from using them in our campaign?...

Further Information
"DroneWars" - a site that contains information on drones and their use.


Dec 2012 : Why "drone attacks" is not a helpful term"
BFTF has spent quite a bit of time over the last six months challenging the local Conservative Party and local MP on the civilian killings and "double tap" airstrikes that are taking place in Afghanistan/Pakistan area. You can read about this, including the rather disappointing response from government, at the link below:

During this dialogue, BFTF used the phrase "drone attacks", not least because this was a label that was widely used in the media.

But this label is not helpful because it confuses two, very separate, issues

Issue 1 : The use of drones, per se.
BFTF understands the concerns regarding autonomously firing drones (which are not a reality at the time of writing) and of drone "pilots" behaving as though they were playing a video game, But it has also to be recongnised that, from a military point of view, drones are far, far cheaper, and can fly much for much longer than piloted aircraft - and do not put a human pilot in harms way. If BFTF was the head of an Air Force, using them would be the mother of all no-brainer decisions.

Issue 2 : What the drones are doing.
For BFTF it is the people who are dying in the missile strikes launched from the drones that are the real issue, and they would still be the issue if those missiles had come from piloted planes, or had been long range artillery.

BFTF's feels that concern should perhaps be focussed on the issues of target selection, confidence that the target is legitimate, elimination of injury, mutilation or death of innocent bystanders(1), and the damaging effects of "double tap" strikes.

Using terms such as "drone attacks" when challenging government or other institutions on what is being done in our name allows them to focus on Issue 1 rather than Issue 2 - and this is what happened, to a degree, in the response from the Government to BFTF's challenge.

So, from here on, BFTF will use simply use the term "missile strike", in the hope that this will help focus the attention where it should be - on what got hit.

(1) : Otherwise known as "collateral damage"


Oct 2012 : A recent report by researchers at Stanford Universtity entitled "Living Under Drones" (see summary at the end of this post) contained a section on the recent practice of "double tap" drone strikes, where people trying to rescue possible survivors of a first strike are hit by a second drone strike minutes later.

The report states that :

"... In a February 2012 joint investigative report, Chris Woods of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) documented that: of the 18 attacks on attacks on rescuers and mourners reported at the time by credible media, twelve cases have been independently confirmed by our researchers. In each case civilians are reported killed...

...Those interviewed for this report were acutely aware of reports of the practice of follow-up strikes, and explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

...One interviewee told us that a strike at the home of his in-laws hit first responders: “Other people came to check what had happened; they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.” A father of four, who lost one of his legs in a drone strike, admitted that, “[w]e and other people are so scared of drone attacks now that when there is a drone strike, for two or three hours nobody goes close to [the location of the strike]...

...Crucially, the threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded. According to a health professional familiar with North Waziristan, one humanitarian organization had a “policy to not go immediately [to a reported drone strike] because of follow up strikes. There is a six hour mandatory delay.” ...

...The dissuasive effect that the “double tap” pattern of strikes has on first responders raises crucial moral and legal concerns. Not only does the practice put into question the extent to which secondary strikes comply with international humanitarian law’s basic rules of distinction, proportionality, and precautions, but it also potentially violates specific legal protections for medical and humanitarian personnel, and for the wounded. As international law experts have noted, intentional strikes on first responders may constitute war crimes." (emphasis BFTF's)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, BFTF will be challenging the local Conservative Party on why the UK's closest ally is routinely performing what may well be war crimes. The outcomes of this will be posted on the original "Drones Killing Civilians" post.


  1. Drone strikes are a difficult issue. We all wish that they could be 100% accurate with only armed insurgents being killed.

    Sadly in any armed conflict some innocent people get killed. The challenging moral question is what level of innocent deaths are "acceptable" given that ideally we would not want anyone innocent to get killed.

    It is worth remembering that drone strikes could not take place in Pakistan without the tacit acceptance of the Pakistani government which has many means it could use to bring them to an end. These include threatening to shut down all NATO transit, and in extremis shooting down all drones over Pakistani air space. It chooses not to do so.

  2. The weak will always get done over by the bully.
    The west is tough against malnourished Afghans ruining around in sandals with worn out machine guns. When Russia flew their fighter jet very close a US worship , US just stood there . no response LOL