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Hapless Mark Lancaster blames 'erroneous drafting' for Tory doublespeak on drone killings

THE TORIES’ policy on drone strikes is in “chaos,” legal action charity Reprieve charged today after Defence Minister Mark Lancaster admitted an official document had been “misleading.”

Officials quietly deleted a key line in the Joint Doctrine on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a much-delayed policy document on the use of drones which was published last September.

The document stated that Britain had a “practice of targeting suspected terrorists outside of the armed conflict itself” — something the government had hitherto strenuously denied.

But Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a newspaper interview that he would “hunt down” suspected terrorists in “Iraq and Syria and other areas,” explicitly including the possibility of taking lethal action against individuals outside of the armed conflict zones authorised by Parliament.

Human rights law charity Reprieve and SNP MP Stewart McDonald sounded the alarm in December, after which a new version of the document was published without the line.

Mr Lancaster subsequently attributed the error to “erroneous drafting.”

Jen Gibson, head of Reprieve’s assassination team, accused the government of being in “complete chaos.”

She said: “We had the Defence Secretary vowing to hunt people down anywhere. Then we had a long overdue document saying the government have a ‘practice’ of killing people outside of armed conflict zones. And now we have a minister claiming there is no policy at all.”

Ms Gibson raised the spectre of Britain being “dragged on [US President Donald] Trump’s coat tails” into global conflicts from Yemen to Niger.

“The public has a right to know the policy on taking lethal strikes in our name,” she said.   

Critics of drone warfare argue that drones help “normalise extrajudicial killing.”

Aerial weapons have driven overall civilian deaths from explosives, which doubled to around 15,000 throughout 2017.

US drones in Pakistan alone are estimated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to have killed up to 970 civilians.

British officials claim no civilian deaths have resulted from aerial operations in Iraq, but with over 1,200 missions flown by Reaper drones from 2014 to 2017, many do not believe the assertion is credible.

MPs have cautioned that weak policy on drone strikes could leave service personnel exposed to criminal charges.

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