all quiet on the isis front? - Remote Control Project

Mar 1, 2017 - Minor, Jon Moran, Michael Pryce, Julian Richards, Peter Roberts, Paul Rogers, Javier .... the world to plan, enable and inspire groups ... and burgeoning access to the internet, the ... Sunday Mirror each ran stories on UK plans.
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ALL QUIET ON THE ISIS FRONT? British secret warfare in an information age Emily Knowles and Abigail Watson

This report has been written by Remote Control, a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by Oxford Research Group. The project examines changes in military engagement, with a focus on remote control warfare. This form of intervention takes place behind the scenes or at a distance rather than on a traditional battlefield, often through drone strikes and air strikes from above, with Special Forces, intelligence agencies, private contractors, and military training teams on the ground. Emily Knowles is Remote Control’s project manager. Abigail Watson is a Research Officer with Remote Control. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the many people who have given up time and shared their knowledge with us for this report. Some of them, often still in serving or official positions, have preferred to remain anonymous and are not named here. None of them bear responsibility for any of the opinions (or errors) in this report, which are the authors’ own. In alphabetical order: Dapo Akande, Richard Aldrich, Malcolm Chalmers, Lindsay Clarke, Chris Cole, Rory Cormac, Ian Davis, Joseph Devanny, Anthony Dworkin, Frank Foley, Ulrike Franke, Chris Fuller, Jennifer Gibson, Anthony Glees, Michael Goodman, Jim Killock, Ewan Lawson, Peter Lee, Elizabeth Minor, Jon Moran, Michael Pryce, Julian Richards, Peter Roberts, Paul Rogers, Javier Ruiz Diaz, Paul Schulte, Namir Shabibi, Adam Svendsen, Jack Watling, Nicholas Wheeler, and Chris Woods. We would also like to acknowledge the expertise that was shared with us by the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford, which has been truly invaluable.

Published by Remote Control, March 2017 Remote Control Oxford Research Group Development House 56-64 Leonard Street London EC2A 4LT United Kingdom +44 (0)207 549 0298 [email protected] The text of this report is made available under a Creative Commons license. Photographs remain the copyright of original holders. All citations must be credited to Remote Control. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the experts consulted as part of the research process, and any mistakes that remain are categorically the authors’ own. Cover image: markusspiske Pixabay/ Creative Commons

Contents Introduction

A golden age of remote warfare? Secret warfare in an information age The accountability gap

1 2 4 6

Case 1: the use of armed drones

8 8 9 11 15

Case 2: the use of Special Forces

16 16 18 19 19 20 20 20 20 21 22 24 27

Introduction Providing capabilities outside areas of declared hostilities - Syria - Somalia - Pakistan - Yemen - The UK’s role in aiding the Saudi-led coalition Patchy government transparency - Scrutiny of embedded troops - Oversight of intelligence-sharing - The role of the ISC - Neither confirm nor deny Conclusions

Case 3: sharing capabilities with allies

28 28 28 30 31 32 32 33 35 35 36 38 39 39

Conclusion: greater secrecy is not always good strategy


Armed drones Special Forces Embedded troops Intelligence-sharing

Policy recommendations

41 41 41 42 42



Introduction Faltering government transparency Confusion over government policies Conclusions

Introduction The golden age of Special Forces - Libya - Somalia - Yemen - Afghanistan - Syria - Iraq The blanket opacity policy Lack of legislative oversight Culture of no comment Conclusions

Introduction In May 2016, the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, appeared to put to bed rumours of a pending British troop deployment to Libya1 with the statement that: “we do not intend to deploy ground forces in any combat role. Before engagin