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26 Mar, 2013 09:24

Drone war: 54% of Britons support targeted killing of terrorists – poll

Drone war: 54% of Britons support targeted killing of terrorists – poll

A majority of British citizens support their government helping the US locate and eliminate known terrorists with drone strikes abroad and in the UK, according to a new survey, despite growing controversy over civilians killed by drones.

54 percent of those surveyed said they support killing individual terrorists abroad, and 31 percent indicated they were against it. The joint survey was conducted by the University of Surrey's Centre for International Intervention and defense think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), in collaboration with YouGov.

The poll focused on reports that the UK has been helping the US locate and kill people deemed terrorists. Survey participants were shown the following text: “It was recently reported that the UK Government might be passing information to US authorities to help them carry out missile strikes from unmanned aircraft called 'drones' to kill known terrorists overseas in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.” 

When the survey guaranteed that no civilian lives would be lost in the process and the drone strike would prevent an attack on the UK, support rose to an overwhelming majority of 75 percent. A further 52 percent of those surveyed expressed support for eliminating known terrorists in the UK, and 57 percent of responders favor targeting kidnappers and pirates.

Data from RUSI survey.

However, when the risk to civilian lives was higher, support dropped: If two or three innocent lives might be lost then support dropped to just 43 percent, and if 10 to 15 civilians might be killed then 32 percent supported the strike, the survey found.

Women and younger participants were generally less supportive of drone strikes than men and those over 60.

Responders remained divided over the question of whether drone strikes result in better security in the West, with 32 percent saying that drones strengthen security by eliminating terrorists, while 31 percent said that security was being undermined by turning locals against the west. 

Rehman Chishti, Tory MP for Gillingham and Rainham, expressed concern over the UK’s current drone strike policy.

“There is currently a cloud of secrecy over the policy, rules and procedures for drone strikes and the Government needs to explain what they are,” Chishti told the Huffington Post. "Currently 74 percent of Pakistanis see the United States as an enemy and the lack of clarity fosters anti-Western sentiments, which could be a danger to our own security.”

In the US, 65 percent of Americans support drone strikes carried out by their country against suspected terrorists abroad, according to a Gallup poll released on Monday.

US drone strikes abroad have been widely criticized by many international organizations.

Members of the European Parliament stated earlier this month that the US was putting global stability and international order at risk by pursuing targeted drone strikes against suspected terrorists.

At least 3,000 people, including a large number of civilians, are said to have been killed by the controversial CIA drone program in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen since 2004, the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention reported.

Earlier in March, the UN warned that US drone strikes in Pakistan violate the country’s sovereignty. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, some 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children, have been killed by the strikes, and another 1,300 were wounded.

In January, the UN began an investigation into civilian casualties from drone strikes and other targeted killings in Pakistan, as well as in several other countries. Its conclusions are expected later in October.