A WAR investigation published yesterday directly implicated the British government in the covert US drone programme in Yemen despite years of denials.
Vice News revealed that British personnel had played a “crucial and sustained role” in the US programme, with officials taking part in so-called “hits,” triangulating intelligence for target lists, preparing “target packages” and participating in a “joint operations room” with US and Yemeni forces.
A former senior CIA official told Vice News that Britain’s role was “pretty critical,” while a former Yemeni foreign minister said the US and Britain had a “blank cheque” to carry out the operations.
“For years, the government has denied any involvement in the US’s covert drone war in Yemen, saying it was ‘a matter for the states involved’,” said human rights group Reprieve staff attorney Jen Gibson.
“It’s now beyond dispute the UK is one of those states — working hand in glove with the Americans to create the very ‘kill list’ that drives those strikes.
According to the Vice reports, British military personnel have been seconded to intelligence agencies to carry out activities in Yemen under the aegis of the Foreign Office.
“Even more disturbing, the UK has copied wholesale the US model of outsourcing the military to the intelligence agencies in order to hide their involvement and avoid any accountability,” said Ms Gibson.
A British official reportedly confirmed that these seconded personnel were involved in the drone programme, saying: “Once they are seconded, the MoD loses any control over what they get up to.”
Reprieve, which assists civilian victims of drone attacks, challenged the Ministry of Defence in 2014 to own up to complicity in Yemen.
But at the time the Ministry insisted: “The UK does not provide any military support to the US campaign of remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) strikes on Yemen” and that “use of RPAS strikes for counter-terrorist purposes is a matter for the states involved.”
The government also denied knowledge of an “operations room” involved in the identification of targets.
In the same year ministers also told Parliament that there were only two British military personnel present in Yemen.
Britain’s “integral” role is understood to have continued despite numerous reports of significant civilian casualties from US drone strikes in Yemen.