Britain is ready to launch more drone strikes in Syria to thwart potential terrorism plots, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon vowed Tuesday, adding fuel to the debate over the extent of British operations in the Middle East.
His remarks followed Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement Monday that more than two weeks earlier, Britain had conducted a drone strike for the first time inside Syria. The strike killed three suspected members of the so-called Islamic State, including two British citizens.
“We wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if we know there’s an armed attack likely,” Secretary Fallon told BBC Radio. “If there is no other way of preventing an armed attack that’s likely to take place on our streets other than using a military strike, then that’s what we will do.”
The drone strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa on Aug. 21 marked the first time Britain had targeted a UK citizen in such a way outside a formal conflict, The Guardian reported.
Reyaad Khan, a 21-year-old from Cardiff who had appeared in an IS recruitment video last year, was the primary target. He was killed alongside Ruhul Amin, a 26-year-old from Aberdeen, and a third, unidentified associate.
Addressing the House of Commons, Cameron said Monday he had not sought Parliament’s approval for the strike because it was ordered in “self-defense.” He said Mr. Khan represented a “clear and present danger.” He accused him of planning attacks on "high-profile public commemorations" in Britain, though he was vague about the exact threat posed.
Fallon said there was "no other way" of stopping Khan. But he declined to provide more details on what evidence they had found of plots against Britain.
The strike appears to bring Britain closer in line with the United States’ controversial drone policy and widens Britain’s involvement in the Middle East. Two years ago, UK lawmakers rejected a proposal for military action in Syria while signing onto the American-led campaign against IS targets in Iraq. But as The Guardian reports:
Downing Street dismissed suggestions that the prime minister had deliberately engineered UK involvement in the drone strikes rather than leaving them to the US, which is involved in regular operations over Syria, as a way of making the case for greater British involvement in action against ISIS in the country. The prime minister’s spokeswoman said he had sanctioned the operation after receiving specific intelligence that UK citizens were planning terror attacks on UK soil.
Cameron, who had said that he would seek Parliament’s approval before extending any British military action against ISIS targets from Iraq to Syria, said he had acted in line with his commitments. He reserved the right to authorize strikes without a vote in the event of an emergency.
Opposition leaders and human rights groups have widely condemned the government for authorizing the drone strike without providing more evidence as justification. Interim Labor leader Harriet Harman has called for an independent review of the decision.
"The fact that David Cameron has bypassed Parliament to commit these covert strikes is deeply worrying – as is his refusal to share what legal advice he was given," Kat Craig, a legal director at rights group Reprieve, told Reuters.
News of the drone strike broke as France announced that it will start sending reconnaissance flights over Syria and is considering airstrikes against IS, reports The Associated Press.