What is Britain's role in the CIA's illegal drone campaign?

The death of two British nationals in Pakistan raises serious questions about UK complicity.

In the latest casualties from America's hidden war in Pakistan, two British nationals have reportedly been killed by drone missiles.

According to their friends and familiy, Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir died in a single strike in Waziristan at least three months ago. Both men were suspected of terrorist activity -- Adam had absconded from a control order (yet was still able to leave Britain and enter Pakistan; there is a separate issue), while Azmir's assets were frozen by the Treasury last year as he was suspected of funding terror.

The death of two men already known to UK authorities raises serious questions about the role that the British intelligence services is playing in the CIA's secret war. If Britain provided information about the men's whereabouts to the CIA, it is complicit in this illegal campaign.

The US does not formally acknowledge its drone campaign, but it is thought that it has launched more than 300 strikes since 2004, killing at least 2,000 people. It is near impossible to gain statistics on civilian deaths, although the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has made a decent attempt, finding that at least 392 civilians, including 175 children could be among the dead. The anecdotal evidence certainly disputes the official line that drone attacks keep collateral damage to a minimum. In this week's NS (available on newsstands now) Jemima Khan reports from a conference in Islamabad about the huge human cost:

Barack Obama has argued that the use of drone technology is the best way of targeting militants while minimising civilian casualties. Under his administration, the use of drones has increased tenfold -- it is easier to eliminate terrorist suspects than to detain them. Yet an official US statement claimed there have been no "non-combatant deaths" as a result.

The delegates, tribal elders, the families of victims of drone strikes and Tariq had come from Waziristan to dispute that. They descended on Islamabad -- a riot of beige, with biblical beards -- armed with gruesome photographs of women and children blown to pieces among debris and missile parts stamped with serial numbers and the US flag.

At the conference, Samiullah Jan, 17, just out of college, was represented only by his ID card, retrieved from the rubble of his home. Another teenager, a 16-year-old boy called Saadullah, hobbled in on prosthetic limbs: he had lost his legs and his sight two years earlier. "I used to dream of being a doctor" he told us. "Now I can't even go to school. I'm not even human."

The campaign is illegal, unaccountable, and having a devastating effect on already anti-US public sentiment in Pakistan. A poll for al-Jazeera in August 2009 showed that 67 per cent of respondents "oppose drone attacks by the United States against the Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan". A poll in October for the International Republican Institute found that 73 per cent of respondents opposed US military incursions into the tribal areas, while a recent Pew poll found that 97 per cent viewed the attacks negatively.

The campaign has been spurred on and stepped up, in part, because of high profile "successes", like the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the former Taliban commander in Pakistan. But targeted killings should not be the first recourse of a country purporting to uphold human rights and the rule of law. Britain has serious questions to answer about its complicity.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.