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UK drone attacks: end the secrecy

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widows in afghanistan, no more widows, end the drone secrecySix UK peace activists go on trial following anti-drone war protest at RAF Waddington 

Since June 2008, UK forces have carried out around 300 airstrikes in Afghanistan using armed unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly known as drones), controlled from thousands of miles away.

Although there is some public information about US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, there is almost no public information about drone strikes carried out by the UK in Afghanistan.

Over the past three decades, thousands of women in Afghanistan have lost their husbands or other male relatives during the war.

Since they are largely dependent on the men in their families, the women find it difficult to cope emotionally and financially with their losses.

According to Deutsche Welle (DW) at the start of the year there were about 2.5 million widows living in Afghanistan, and up to 70,000 of them live in the capital, Kabul.

These women account for almost 12 per cent of the entire Afghan population. Most are illiterate and relatively young.

After their husbands’ deaths, the women are faced with rape, poverty and social condemnation.

In a country where the future of a woman depends on her husband, widows are often powerless, as Wazhma Frogh, women’s rights campaigner and co-founder and executive director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security, explained to DW.

With the death of her husband a woman loses not only her identity, but also her place in society. She is also very vulnerable. And there are cases of women being sexually abused by their fathers and brothers-in-law.

The Afghan government does provide for widows, Frogh explained, but when a police officer or a soldier dies in the line of duty, it is not his wife and children who receive monthly financial support payments, but his father.

This clearly shows that not even the government recognises the widows’ standing in Afghan society, Frogh said.

The chief physician of the hospital in the city of Ghazni, Mohammad Hemat, told DW that up to three women are hospitalised every week after attempting suicide.

“For the most part, we are dealing with emotional stress and family issues that often push women over the edge,” he said.

The drones used to target – and kill – insurgents in Afghanistan are remotely controlled from an air force base in the UK: RAF Waddington.

And back in Britain, six peace activists will go on trial at Lincoln Magistrates Court today following an anti-drone war protest at RAF Waddington, which is in Lincolnshire, last June.

Their protest had three aims; 1) to symbolically breach the secrecy and silence surrounding the British use of armed drones; 2) to bring information about the impact of airstrikes on Afghan civilians and 3) to symbolically begin conversion of the air base to peaceful purposes.

They created a peace garden within the base, and displayed information on buildings, hangars and sign posts about the impact of airstrikes on Afghan civilians. Click here to see the posters.

The action was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the first UK drone strike and the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

The six, Susan Clarkson, Chris Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Keith Hebden, Martin Newell and Penny Walker, were originally charged with conspiracy and aggravated trespass, but these charges were dropped and replaced with a single charge of criminal damage to the perimeter fence. They were given bail on condition that they did not re-enter Lincolnshire except to attend court hearings.

All six intend to plead ‘not guilty’, arguing that their actions were reasonable in the circumstances.

The trial comes during the ‘Drones Week of Action‘, which is itself part of the International Keep Space for Peace Week. Many events are taking place around the country raising awareness of the growing use of armed drones.

As Penny Walker explained on the Drone Wars UK website, “With drones, the huge distance between the people making the decision to kill and the people being killed can protect the killers from the reality of their deed.

“While I was [in RAF Waddington] I wanted to communicate the reality of a drone strike on Afghan families and what it is like for them to live in fear.”

Susan Clarkson, one of the six defendants, had visited Afghanistan in late 2012/early 2013 and met, as she wrote on her blog, many victims who “bear the scars of constant war”.

By coincidence, 7 October is also the 12th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan.

There are many serious questions about the growing use of drones:

Does the geographic and psychological distance between the operator and target make attacks more likely?

Does using unmanned systems mean attacks will happen more often?

Does the supposed accuracy of drone sensors and cameras mean that commanders are more willing to undertake ‘riskier’ strikes (in terms of possible civilian casualties) than they would previously have undertaken?

These questions, and many more, need to be debated openly and honestly, requiring careful analysis and judgement based on evidence.

And with the use of armed drones set to increase, there is a need for a serious, public – and fully informed – debate on all these issues.

Sign the petition calling on the UK government to end the secrecy surrounding the use of British drones in Afghanistan and to release all necessary information for a proper public debate. This should include the reasons for individual drone strikes and the number of people killed.

These are some of the questions about the UK’s use of armed drones which campaigners would like answered.

Write to your local MP asking them to forward your letter to the Prime Minister for answers – and to let you have a copy of any response.

Join the vigil at RAF Waddington on 12 October.

For other Week of Action info, click here.

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