Christopher Lee writes from London: Everyone knows about the US drones whacking the Taliban – or that’s how the Americans tell it. In the UK, the general attitude is: good on you Yanks. Blow away as many Taliban as your cowboys in Nevada Predator Control can spot.
It’s great stuff because no one gets killed except terrorists and a few civilians. Also, the military anoraks say this is the future as well as Now Warfare. It’s technology challenging the guy with the turban and bomb-lined waistcoat. If a few Human Rights Watch campaigners complain that a bunch of families got in the way, then that’s too bad. They shouldn’t hang out with the bad guys.
Anyway, not many dead and we never met any of them. End of US media briefing. British Media break into applause
What people in the UK don’t know is that the British have their own drones and they’re doing quite a bit of their own killing – including civilians. The RAF is operating Reaper drones and guiding them to targets – or as close as doesn’t seem to matter to the RAF – from a US military facility in Nevada.
The RAF Grim Reaper mission has been running for close on five years. Average flying time is 10-11,000 hours a year. So, the RAF must be pretty pleased with itself. Must have blown away plenty nasties in that time. Well, it’s not as easy as that.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) tells it this way: there are “difficulties and risks” knowing who has been wasted by the RAF Reapers.
So they say they know that they’ve killed four civilians, but don’t have any figures for Taliban killed or wounded. This may seem a remarkable show of ignorance on the part of the MOD considering that since drone flights started in 2008, the RAF has flown them for close to 35,000 hours and fired 281 bombs and missiles.
You would think that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond would want to tell the world about dead Taliban targeted and dispatched by the RAF operators in Nevada. How is it that the Americans do press handouts every time they hit a carload of Taliban? How is that they provide a reasonable run-down on Predator activity? What’s more, they give these figures knowing they have to do Pak-US relations and take hits from regional critics including so-called allies like President Karzai himself.
More precisely, how is it that the MOD can continue to tell us they don’t know how many have been killed in the RAF attacks? They are either incompetent or what the Pakistanis would call lying and what we may call being economical with the truth.
Know what a guy at the MOD said? “For reasons of operational security we are not prepared to comment on the numbers of insurgents killed or wounded in Reaper strikes.”
Operational Security? Shouldn’t the MOD explain that line? Apparently, that’s also classified. Somehow, none of this should surprise us.
The MOD don’t want to make a big deal of it in case Taliban sympathisers in the UK take revenge on another load of passengers on a London bus, especially in this Olympic year, and any other time for that matter.
Also, the truth is, we are at war. Not everything should be page one in wartime. Trouble is, although the performance of men and women in all three services operating (and getting killed and wounded) is appreciated back home, the war itself is seen as a crass moment when America led us into a war that the British of all people knew from even limited history lessons would end in disaster.
There’s something else to consider: like so much they do, this is another example of the MOD being seen -rightly or wrongly – as a shifty and not to be trusted organisation. Someone like Hammond should get a grip of it, especially as the public will not support big defence spending once the UK has pulled out in 2014.