Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Campaigners stage RAF drones demo

Anti-war protestors are to voice their opposition to the UK's use of armed drones in Afghanistan (AP/Eric Gay)

Hundreds of peace campaigners have gathered outside an RAF base to protest against the "obscenity" of armed drones being used to conduct unmanned missions in Afghanistan.

Around 400 demonstrators took part in a march from Lincoln to a rally at nearby RAF Waddington, which assumed control of British drone missions in Afghanistan earlier this week.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Thursday that oversight of armed intelligence and surveillance flights by drones deployed to Afghanistan had now moved to Waddington from a United States Air Force facility in Nevada. Protesters taking part in the rally cheered calls for the international community to emulate action taken against cluster munitions by outlawing armed drones.

Chris Cole, a co-ordinator of the Drone Campaign Network, said the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to wage war raised numerous legal, ethical and moral issues. Speaking near Waddington's perimeter fence, Mr Cole said: "This is the new home of drone warfare in the UK and there are questions about the growing use of these armed, unmanned systems.

"Because of their remote nature, there is no risk to any of our forces and that makes it easier to launch weapons and makes it much easier for politicians to get involved in warfare."

Mr Cole said the number of demonstrators present at the rally showed the strength of public feeling against the use of drones, particularly to target areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The activist added: "In Pakistan there are reliable reports of a large number of civilian casualties and we don't know about British use of drones because there is no information about what's happening in Afghanistan."

In a speech to the protesters, Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: "There is nothing like getting close up to these bases to see how menacing they are.

"It brings home that (the UK is) engaged in drone warfare - it is warfare which is operated remotely at absolutely no risk to anybody in this country but with terrible consequences for people in countries many, many thousands of miles away. Nobody knows how many have died and nobody knows their names."

The MoD says drones have played a vital role supporting military operations in Afghanistan and have "undoubtedly" helped to save the lives of military personnel and those of countless Afghan civilians. Defence officials have also stressed that Reaper drones are primarily operated in Afghanistan in a surveillance and reconnaissance role.

An MoD spokesman said: "We fully respect people's right to protest peacefully and within the law. 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."

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