British pilots have been secretly carrying out airstrikes in Syria, despite the government's own pledge to hold a vote in parliament before launching bombardments in the country, the London-based human rights organization Reprieve discovered through a freedom of information request revealed Friday.
In the initial request, Reprieve asked the Ministry of Defense (MoD): "Have any UK military personnel conducted airstrikes in Syria or Iraq using non-UK equipment? If so, how many, where and using whose equipment?"
In response, the MoD said: "UK military personnel embedded with the USA, French and Canadian armed forces have been authorized to deploy with their units to participate in coalition operations against Isil. UK embeds operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of command. These personnel include pilots flying... strike missions against Isil targets using the equipment of those units. Of these three nations only the USA and Canada are operating in Syrian airspace."
The reply means that UK pilots have been involved in airstrikes in Syria, under the command of U.S. or Canadian forces.
The UK is participating in the bombings despite the fact that the House of Commons rejected military intervention in Syria in a vote two years ago. Moreover, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon previously pledged to hold a parliamentary vote before launching airstrikes in Syria, but no such vote has taken place.
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"It is alarming that Parliament and the public have been kept in the dark about this for so long," said Jennifer Gibson, Reprieve staff attorney. "Yet more worrying is the fact that the UK seems to have turned over its personnel to the US wholesale, without the slightest idea as to what they are actually doing, and whether it is legal."
"We need an open and honest debate about UK involvement in Iraq and Syria," Gibson added. "We can’t have that, though, until the UK comes clean about what actions its personnel are already undertaking."
The UK has been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq since last September.
The Stop the War Coalition said Friday's revelations "reveal both the government's contempt for democracy and its subservience to Washington foreign policy."
"Stop the War demands the government publicly commits to an immediate end to British bombing of Syria," the organization continued. "More widely we call for an end to military and diplomatic support for Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen and for a stop to the bombing campaign in Iraq."