Can You Tell What’s Happening in This U.K. Drone Kill Footage?
Video highlights limits of remote-controlled strikes
Like the United States, the United Kingdom is using armed drones to strike terrorists in Syria and Iraq. But new video footage suggests the British military is dealing with the same problems its American cousins already face with remotely-controlled strikes.
Namely that it’s very hard to make out what’s happening.
On Sept. 7, British prime minister David Cameron told the country’s lawmakers that the Royal Air Force had killed British citizen Reyaad Khan “in an act of self defense.” The 21-year-old Khan, another British national and a third Islamic State fighter died as an MQ-9 Reaper drone struck their convoy near Raqqa, Syria.
The American-made unmanned planes have been flying missions in the region for almost a year. The Royal Air Force has approximately 10 of the armed drones in total.
A day later, Britain’s defense headquarters released video footage of an unrelated Reaper strike on an Islamic State boat, seen below.
The official caption does not say whether the attack took place in Iraq or Syria. Censors heavily redacted location data from the grainy, low-resolution clip.
With the extremely poor fidelity, it’s hard to tell the what target is — regardless of the video title — until the shockwave hits the water. But even at its best quality, the video might not have offered much more detail.
While the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense are rarely forthcoming about their drones’ exact specifications, most experts agree that the cameras on pilotless attackers like the Reaper have limited fields of vision and can’t show fine enough details to identify specific individuals.
An official Pentagon spreadsheet that collects allegations of air strikes in Iraq and Syria that may have caused civilian casualties seems to back up many of these concerns. War Is Boring obtained a version of this document through the Freedom of Information Act.
The database included a number of incidents involving possible civilian casualties that American commanders determined to be “not credible.” In many cases, the exonerating evidence was full-motion video from drones.
However, rather than offering conclusive information, the footage often provided too little detail to prove anything one way or another, according to the notes.
“Given the limited video analysis available … there is insufficient information to make a characterization,” one entry stated. “Intermittent visual contact with the ground showed no personnel present in the target area.”
But regardless of the potential for dangerous mistakes, the RAF looks set to continue using its Reapers — along with manned Tornado fighter-bombers — to attack Islamic State militants, including British citizens Whitehall decides to be imminent threats.
“We wouldn’t hesitate to take similar action again,” British defense minister Michael Fallon told the BBC on Sept. 8.