London, United Kingdom (Reprieve) – The Defence Secretary has today released figures on the number of UK personnel ‘embedded’ with the armed forces of other nations. The publication is in response to concerns raised in July this year after it emerged that British pilots had already been bombing Syria while flying US jets. The information was obtained by international human rights charity Reprieve via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
Today’s figures do not set out which operations the embedded personnel are involved in, or the locations where the embedded personnel are deployed. They also group a large number of embedded personnel under the heading “coalition HQs” without making clear which coalitions those are – leaving open the possibility that these could be British personnel assisting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Had figures been published in this form in July this year, it would have been impossible for MPs to determine that UK pilots were engaged in bombing Syria without Parliament’s knowledge. The figures, which Mr Fallon says will be published annually, are also only a snapshot of one date, rather than a cumulative total for the whole year, meaning that they will not provide a complete picture of the activities of UK forces.
Reprieve has been seeking to map out the involvement of UK personnel in operations taking place without public knowledge and in countries where the UK is not at war. It is concerned that UK personnel, embedded with partner nations without proper safeguards, may potentially be in breach of both domestic and international law. Annual updates in this form will not provide the transparency about the UK use of force to which Parliament and the British public are entitled.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, a staff attorney at Reprieve said: “This is a long way from real transparency. It is impossible to tell what operations or even what countries these personnel are active in, making this information almost worthless. The terms used are also hopelessly vague: what, for example, are the ‘coalition HQs’ where nearly 100 UK personnel are based? Is this the highly controversial Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the long-standing coalition in Afghanistan, the coalition in Iraq and Syria, or another we don’t know about? The UK Government is of course entitled to use military force, but if it is doing so then Parliament and the public deserve to know at the very least which wars we are sending our troops into and under whose command.”