UK Foreign Office finds increasing opposition to drone strikes in NW Pakistan

May 20, 2013

UK Foreign Office finds increasing opposition to drone strikes in NW Pakistan

The British Government has revealed that surveys carried out in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas – which bear the brunt of US drone strikes – have shown year-on-year increases in opposition to the covert campaign.

Responding to a Parliamentary Question this week, Foreign Minister Alistair Burt said that, according to surveys “supported” by the Foreign Office (FCO), the proportion of respondents who believed drone strikes were “never justified” rose from 59% in 2010 to 63% in 2011.

Notably, 63% is also the proportion of Americans opposed to the President being allowed to carry out drone strikes inside the US targeting fellow citizens, according to a recent poll by Fox News.

This appears to be the first time that the UK Government has revealed it has carried out opinion research on the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan – a programme on which it has refused to publicly comment.  Previously, British ministers have simply stated that “drone strikes are a matter for the United States and Pakistan.”

However, there have been reports that the British Government is complicit in the programme, by sharing locational intelligence with US agencies to help them target the strikes.  As a result, UK ministers are facing a Judicial Review of their intelligence-sharing policy, brought in the English courts by Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a March 2011 strike which hit a meeting of civilians.  Mr Khan is being supported in his action by human rights charity Reprieve.

Commenting, Reprieve Legal Director, Kat Craig said: “The UK should not need to carry out polling to determine that a campaign of illegal killing is wrong.  But what this does show is that even British Government surveys find that the drone campaign is increasingly unpopular.

“This is yet more evidence that the CIA’s campaign of deadly strikes in Pakistan is deeply counter-productive – which is hardly surprising, given it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.  Ministers must come clean on the role UK intelligence is playing in supporting drone strikes, put a stop to it, and pressure the US to end its campaign.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell on +44 (0) 7791 755 415 /

2. The full text of the Parliamentary Question is as follows:

Nicholas Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect on public opinion in (a) Afghanistan and (b) Pakistan of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes. [155039]

Alistair Burt: The FCO has supported opinion surveys which looked at attitudes towards governance, religion and society in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In 2010 and 2011, these surveys included a question related to “US drone strikes in the FATA”. The proportion of respondents that believed that drone strikes were never justified rose from 59% in 2010 to 63% in 2011. No other assessments of the effect of drone strikes on public opinion have been undertaken by the UK.

3. A survey of US views on drones carried out by Fox News found the following:

“Do you think the president of the United States, on his own, should be able to authorize the use of deadly force, such as a drone strike, to kill a suspected terrorist who is a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil?

Yes: 32%

No: 63%

Don’t know: 5%”

4. Questioned on the UK’s position on drone strikes in FATA, ministers have previously claimed that they are “a matter for the United States and Pakistan”:

5. Further information on Noor Khan’s case can be found here: