British MPs question legality of drone strikes in Iraq & Syria

February 5, 2015

Image of drones

A report published today by the UK Parliament’s Defence Committee has questioned the legality of ‘targeted killings’ – carried out by drones and Special Forces – in Iraq and Syria.  The Committee’s report on The situation in Iraq and Syria  refers to the use of  “Special Forces operations and remotely piloted air systems [drones] to kill or capture High Value targets,” and raises questions over whether “such operations…are in accordance with the law.”  It also asks whether such operations could potentially undermine political strategy in the area.

The MPs also argue that “it is unacceptable for the United Kingdom simply to ‘sign-up’ to providing military support for a campaign plan entirely developed and owned by another coalition partner—in this case, apparently, the United States—without having any independent assessment or analysis of the assumptions, detail and viability of that campaign plan.”

Commenting on the report, Cori Crider, a director at legal charity Reprieve said: “The Committee is right to question the legality of Britain following the US’ lead on operations in Syria.  The UK must think twice before it mires itself in yet another American misadventure in the Middle East, especially as US officials show every sign of repeating all the blunders of the recent ‘war on terror’.

“Many in the US Government tout the ‘Yemen model’ as their plan for Syria. Yet in Yemen, intelligence failures and a short-sighted focus on targeted drone killings terrorised communities, destroyed innocent lives, and drove thousands of disaffected people into the arms of an insurgency. Yemen’s government has collapsed. It’s now crystal clear that the so-called ‘model’ was an abject failure.  What makes anyone think taking the same approach in Syria will prove any better?”


Notes to editors

1. The full report can be found on Parliament’s website.

2.  The Obama Administration has pointed approvingly to the Yemen model of counter-terrorism on a number of occasions – see, for example, this September 2014 interview with a “Senior Administration Official,” made available on the White House’s website, in which s/he states that “our counterterrorism efforts against AQAP in Yemen [have] allowed us to place continued pressure on AQAP to disrupt attacks on the homeland and to work to put President Hadi and the Yemeni people on a sustainable path to implement the political transition that he has put in place there.”