On Friday, anti-war activists condemned the U.K. for secretly conducting airstrikes over Syria.
British pilots have been carrying out airstrikes alongside U.S. forces for “some time,” according to human rights group Reprieve.
The extent of British involvement in the airstrikes had previously been murky. Despite a 2013 vote in parliament against military action in Syria, human rights groups have long suspected the Ministry of Defense has been quietly aiding U.S.-led forces.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the U.K. is closely involved in the US’ secret drone war, which risks turning the whole world into a battlefield,” Reprieve's legal director Kat Craig said earlier this week.
In response to a Freedom of Information request from the human rights group, the ministry stated, “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.” ISIL is an acronym for a name formerly used by the Islamic State group.
The ministry defended the use of British pilots in airstrike missions, arguing, “We do have a long-standing embed program with allies, where small numbers of U.K. personnel act under the command of host nations … When embedded, U.K. personnel are effectively operating as foreign troops.”
“That has been the case in Syria,” the ministry added.
It wasn't immediately clear why British pilots were authorized to be embedded in missions previously opposed by parliament. Reprieve's staff attorney Jennifer Gibson accused the ministry of keeping both the public and legislators “in the dark.”
“Yet more worrying is the fact that the U.K. seems to have turned over its personnel to the U.S. wholesale, without the slightest idea as to what they are actually doing, and whether it is legal,” Gibson said.
Kate Hudson from the anti-war group Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament dismissed as “anti-democratic doublespeak” the ministry's explanation of how British pilots operate as troops of allied nations.
“These are British soldiers taking part in an operation which (members of parliament) voted against,” Hudson argued.
She continued by condemning U.S.-led airstrikes. The U.S. and its Gulf allies began their bombing campaign against the Islamic State group last year. Since late September its forces have been conducting airstrikes against the extremist organization's positions in Syria and Iraq.
The coalition has conducted more than 2,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria so far, according to data from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011. According to international organizations on the ground, more than 191,000 people have been killed in over the last three years, mostly in fighting between the Syrian army and western-backed armed opposition groups seeking to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
The airstrikes are doing little to end the conflict, Hudson argued.
“Ministers need to realize that dropping bombs from 30,000 feet will do nothing to solve the problems in Syria and Iraq,” she stated.