UK bases used for targeting in secret US drone war, documents indicate

(Reprieve) – Personnel on military bases in the UK have been involved in choosing targets for a secret US drone campaign which has killed hundreds of civilians in violation of international law, documents obtained by human rights charity Reprieve indicate.

Job adverts and CVs identified from publicly-available sources show that the US Air Force has employed a “MQ-9 REAPER [drone] ISR Mission Intelligence Coordinator” at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire ; while a Private Military Contractor (PMC) has advertised for an “All Source Analyst – Targeting” to work at the same base.

RAF Molesworth is leased to the US, but the UK Government has refused to answer questions on whether it plays a role in the covert drone campaign – which carries out missile strikes outside of warzones with minimal accountability.

British Ministers have said that “the US does not operate RPAS [drones] from the UK,” but have refused to answer questions on whether bases in the UK play a role in choosing targets and drawing up the US ‘kill list.’

A third job advert from contractor Leidos for someone to provide “FMV [full motion video] intelligence analysis in support of USAFRICOM…and Special Operations Command Africa,” also at Molesworth, indicates that the base may be involved in supporting illegal covert drone strikes in countries such as Somalia, where neither the US nor the UK is publicly at war.  Along with the CIA, US Special Operations Command is the main player in the drone programme.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Concerns have been raised over the legality of the US covert drone programme, its lack of transparency, and reports that it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.  The UN has warned that it may violate international law, and British ministers have refused to be drawn on their view of its legality.  President Obama has to date refused even to formally acknowledge that the CIA is carrying out drone strikes, because of the programme’s covert status.  A 2014 study by Reprieve found that covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan had killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named individuals.

The revelations come on top of documents published recently by The Intercept on the role played by Menwith Hill – another UK/US intelligence base – in identifying targets in Yemen, one of the main theatres in which the covert drone programme operates.  One document states that targets at Yemeni internet cafes are “tasked by several target offices at NSA and GCHQ.”  The document’s header shows it was copied to the UK, meaning that the British Government must have already been aware of the role its intelligence and bases were playing.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said:

“These documents are the strongest evidence yet that the US may be conducting its illegal, secret drone war from bases on British soil. The UK Government now needs to come clean on what role the bases we lease to the US are playing a role in drawing up secretive US assassination lists – and what exactly the UK’s own involvement in these lists is.

“Simply to say that drones are not flown from the UK is missing the point, if it is personnel on British soil that are at the top of the so-called ‘kill chain’ and British agencies who are feeding targets into those lists. The US drone programme, conducted in the shadows, has killed hundreds of civilians without any accountability.  The British Government has questions to answer over its own involvement in this secret war and how much responsibility it bears for those deaths.”

This report prepared by Reprieve.