British pilots flying US drones

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BRITISH pilots have been flying drones from a US base responsible for covert strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, considered by many to violate international law, new documents have revealed.

A ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MOU) between the UK and US governments, obtained under Freedom of Information by legal charity Reprieve, shows how UK pilots have been assigned to the command of US drone squadrons operating out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Creech is reportedly one of the bases responsible for controlling Predator and Reaper drones flying covert airstrikes against targets in Pakistan and Yemen – countries where neither the US nor the UK are at war.

Such strikes – ordered by the CIA or US Special Forces, but often flown by regular US Air Force (USAF) pilots – have never been officially acknowledged by the US government. A Commission led by the former head of GCHQ, Sir David Omand, last year expressed concern over UK forces embedded with the US, and called for measures to ensure that ‘the UK government does not inadvertently collude in RPA [‘remotely piloted aircraft’ = drone] actions contrary to international law’.

The MOU ‘establishes the terms and conditions by which UK Personnel may be temporarily assigned to the 432nd Wing as a gift of services to fulfil US Air Force operational requirements,’ and states that the normal tour of duty will last up to three years.

It sets out that ‘UK Personnel contributing services will be under the direction and operations control of the Host Participant’s (i.e. the US’) unit commander,’ and ‘Administration and control of the UK Personnel will be in accordance with Host Participant’s national laws and regulations.’

Reprieve is concerned that this means that UK pilots under US command may have been ordered to carry out drone strikes which are at odds with international law and publicly-stated British policy. UK ministers have maintained that strikes in Yemen and Pakistan are matters only for those countries and the United States.