UK to double number of drones in Afghanistan: Report

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 11:24:41 by

The United Kingdom has decided to double the number of unmanned aircrafts flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

In a new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan and be in operation within six weeks, with control coming, for the first time, from terminals and screens in Britain, the report added.

According to the Guardian, pilots based in a high-tech site at RAF Waddington, a military base in England, will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs.

According to the report, Britain’s existing five Reaper drones, which are used to target suspected insurgents in Helmand province in Afghanistan’s southwest, have been operated from a US Air Force base in Nevada because Britain has not had the capability.

The government has yet to decide whether the aircraft will remain there after the end of 2014, when most NATO soldiers are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Officials had been hyping plans to remove half of Britain’s ground troops from Afghanistan in 2013, and the remainder in 2014.

Some even suggested that plan could be sped up further. They insist “no decision” has been made on how long the drones will stay, but acknowledged that they might remain in Afghan skies beyond 2014.

The newspaper quoting the statistics of Ministry of Defence said the UK’s five Reapers in Afghanistan by the end of September had flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents.

In the first three-and-a-half years of using the Reapers in Afghanistan, the aircraft flew 23,400 hours and fired 176 missiles. But those figures have almost doubled in the past 15 months as NATO seeks to weaken the Taliban ahead of withdrawal.

According to The Guardian, the MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimize civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment.

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