UK

UK Is Using Drones In Afghanistan, Ministry Of Defence Confirms

27/04/2013 08:09 BST | Updated 26/06/2013 10:12 BST

After the Ministry of Defence confirmed the UK's use of armed drones in Afghanistan, anti-war protestors are set to gather outside an RAF base in Lincolnshire.

The RAF began remotely operating its Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles deployed to Afghanistan from the Lincolnshire airbase earlier this week.

Previously operated from a United States Air Force base in Nevada, the aircraft are used to support coalition ground forces in Afghanistan.

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Drone missions over Afghanistan have been flown by RAF pilots operating on British soil for the first time

The hi-tech Reaper drones are primarily used to gather intelligence on enemy activity on the ground, but they also carry 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles for precision strikes on insurgents.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the RAF said it had commenced supporting the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan ground troops with "armed intelligence and surveillance missions" remotely piloted from RAF Waddington.

Members of the Stop The War Coalition, CND, The Drone Campaign Network and War on Want will march from Lincoln to the nearby RAF Waddington base.

The organisers of the protest march and rally claim drones make it easier for politicians to launch military interventions, and have increased civilian casualties.

Commenting ahead of the protest, War on Want senior campaigns officer Rafeef Ziadah said: "Drones, controlled far away from conflict zones, ease politicians' decisions to launch military strikes and order extrajudicial assassinations, without democratic oversight or accountability to the public.

"Now is the time to ban killer drones - before it is too late."

Chris Nineham, vice-chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, claimed drones were being used to continue the "deeply unpopular War on Terror" with no public scrutiny.

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 earlier in March suggested.

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

The findings came 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.

The Ministry of Defence has defended its use of drones in Afghanistan, which it says have saved the lives of countless military personnel and civilians.

An MoD spokesman said: "UK Reaper aircraft are piloted by highly trained professional military pilots who adhere strictly to the same laws of armed conflict and are bound by the same clearly defined rules of engagement which apply to traditionally manned RAF aircraft."

Lincolnshire Police have held talks with the organisers of the protest to minimise disruption to the local community.

The route of the march from South Common along the A15 to the peace camp site opposite RAF Waddington will see the road closed in phases to limit inconvenience to motorists.

Community Policing Inspector for Lincoln, Mark Garthwaite, said: "Our aim is to ensure that visitors to the area can participate in peaceful protest but that disruption to motorists and local residents is kept to a minimum.

"Different sections of the road will be closed at varying times as the marchers move along the route."