Drone Strikes Have Backing Of British Public, Despite 'Cloud Of Secrecy' Over Killings

Posted: Updated:
Print Article
DRONES
Getty Images

A majority of the British public support the United Kingdom government aiding the United States target and kill known terrorists with drone strikes, a survey published today shows.

However their backing for the controversial practise drops significantly if they are told civilians would be injured or killed in the attacks.

The findings come in a joint study from the University of Surrey's Centre for International Intervention and defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in collaboration with YouGov.

Respondents were shown the text: "It was recently reported that the UK Government might be passing information to US authorities to help them carry out missile strikes from unmanned aircraft called 'drones' to kill known terrorists overseas in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia."

The study found that 55% of respondents would support the UK Government helping in a drone strike to kill a known terrorist overseas, with that support rising to 67% if it could be guaranteed that no innocent civilians would be killed.

But support dropped steadily as the risk to civilians got higher - falling to just 43% if two or three innocent people might be killed, with opposition from 41%.

If it was "likely that 10-15 innocent civilians might be killed", support dropped to 32%, with opposition rising to 46%, the study found.

At least to 3,000 people, including a large number of civilians, are said to have been killed by controversial CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen since 2004.

Tory MP for Gillingham and Rainham, Rehman Chishti, told The Huffington Post UK that while drones have the potential to target insurgents without putting our armed forces into harm's way, the poll showed the UK needed to ensure that they are "being deployed proportionately and safeguards are in place to prevent civilian casualties".

LIKE HUFFPOST UK POLITICS ON FACEBOOK | FOLLOW US ON TWITTER

"There is currently a cloud of secrecy over the policy, rules and procedures for drone strikes and the Government needs to explain what they are," he said.

"The tragic case of Noor Khan's father, Daud Khan, who was killed in Pakistan along with more than forty people during a drone strike on a jirga, highlighted a number of legal and moral issues about the use of drone strikes and the United Kingdom's connection to those attacks. His case, asserts that the UK provided locational intelligence to the CIA, but the government has refused to confirm or deny its involvement.

"The allegations raised by this case could damage our international relations with Pakistan who will draw their own inferences from the Government's refusal to confirm or deny whether intelligence has been shared with the United States.

"Currently 74% of Pakistani's see the United States as an enemy and the lack of clarity fosters anti western sentiments, which could be a danger to our own security.

"Pakistan is due to become the largest beneficiary of UK aid by 2015 and this good work is also being undermined by this lack of clarity."

President Obama's use of unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill people overseas has become increasingly controversial in the US.

Republican senator Rand Paul recently staged a thirteen hour senate filibuster against drone killings as the White House, successfully, sought the controversial confirmation of John Brennan as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that support for drone strikes against terrorist suspects overseas drops significantly if civilians might be killed in the strike.

Most Americans also said that the drone program should be used only to target high-level terrorists, rather than to hit anyone associated with a terrorist group.

Members of the European Parliament warned earlier this month that the US was putting "global stability and international order at risk" by pursuing a policy of targeted extrajudicial drone strikes against suspected terrorists.

Katie Taylor, project officer at campaign group Reprieve, said civilian casualties are an inevitable consequence of a campaign that involves firing high explosives into populated areas.

"With children tending to make up nearly half of the population in those regions targeted by the US' secretive campaign it is sadly little surprise that they account for hundreds of the reported civilian deaths," she said.

"On top of that, even those children physically unscathed by the drone war are seeing their lives destroyed by fear, and suffering terrible psychological ramifications, as their parents take them out of school and whole communities avoid any activity which involves gathering in groups for fear of being targeted.

"The CIA's drone campaign breaks the law on a number of levels, but perhaps worst of all it has been found to violate a number of children's rights enshrined in international law, including the rights to life, health and education."

Related on HuffPost:

Suggest a correction