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HUMAN RIGHTS groups pressed Michael Fallon yesterday to come clean over the number of civilians killed by British air strikes in Syria and Iraq over the past year.
They urged the Defence Secretary to reveal a death toll following his boasts that air strikes have killed around 330 Isis militants in Iraq and Syria from September 2014 to August 2015 but no civilians.
Answering a written question from Green MP Caroline Lucas, Mr Fallon claimed that the government did not believe any civilians had been killed or injured by the strikes against Isis.
“Any overall estimates would be a matter for the coalition,” he said.
The announcement follows widespread outcry over the revelation that Britain had been involved in the targeting of British citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin in a drone strike in the Isis stronghold of Raqqah on August 21.
Critics at the time accused the government of extrajudicial murder and argued that such attacks, on a country with which Britain is not at war, breached human rights laws.
Amnesty International UK control arms programme director Oliver Sprague told the Star: “Michael Fallon’s answer is highly unsatisfactory.
“We’ve been here before, with Nato and US-led coalitions talking of ‘precision’ air strikes only for the world to discover that numerous civilians have actually been killed.
“The Defence Secretary must provide Parliament and the public with proper information about the nature of these strikes, about how people were targeted and, crucially, how he’s arrived at his claim of there being no civilian casualties.
“There should be an independent investigation into the UK’s recent air strikes, not unsubstantiated ministerial claims.”
Downing Street said the decision to authorise the use of remote RAF aircraft to strike individuals in Syria “some months ago” despite Parliament voting against military action in Syria in 2013.
A meeting of senior members of the National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year, received advice from Attorney General Jeremy Wright that drone attacks would be legal on grounds of self-defence.
But Mr Wright refused to give further details to MPs on the justice select committee on the nature of the legal advice he had given.
Ms Lucas told the Star: “This revelation displays the UK’s widespread involvement in strikes against Isis targets.
“It’s deeply troubling to see such a lack of certainty from the government — we know hundreds have been killed, yet the exact number isn’t clear.
“Even more worrying is the fact that the minister cannot confirm for sure that no civilians have died.”
Human rights charity Reprieve legal director Kat Craig added: “All we currently know is that the Prime Minister thinks he can authorise the killing of anyone, anywhere, without any parliamentary or judicial oversight.
“The UK appears to be going down the US route of a counter-productive, secret drone war which does more harm than good.”
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