The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Full Report
British forces have carried out 299 drone strikes in Afghanistan, defence minister Andrew Robathan announced in Parliament yesterday. This is the first time the British government has announced how many drone strikes it has launched.
The new figures released by the defence minister, which cover 2008 to the end of July 2013, show that the vast majority of armed drone missions in Afghanistan did not lead to a strike. But an analysis of these figures alongside data provided to the Bureau by the US Air Force last year shows that for each mission flown, British forces were significantly more likely to fire potentially deadly missiles than their US allies.
In total, 7% of British drone sorties between 2008 and 2011 resulted in a strike, compared to just over 2% of US missions. The MoD data shows that in 2012 drone missions were even more likely to lead to strikes – 10% of sorties led to missiles being fired, compared to 5% in 2008.
The UK is the only country aside from the US that currently operates General Atomics Reaper drones – last year the MoD announced the fleet was to double in size, from five to 10 armed drones. The US is believed to operate over 200 armed drones in Afghanistan, although it has declined to reveal a precise number.
The new figures, announced by Robathan in response to a parliamentary question from Green MP Caroline Lucas, highlight the key role played by British unmanned aircraft in the Afghan conflict. British-piloted drones carried out 22% of all drone strikes – more than one in five – in the conflict between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the last year for which comparison was possible, British-piloted drones launched 30% of all drone attacks in the theatre.