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Afghan Drone Protest Across East Midlands

A peace walk took place in Nottingham on Wednesday, as walkers undertook the 15 mile route along the A60 from Loughborough to Nottingham. The walk, planned as part of the Drone Campaign Network’s ‘Drones Week of Action’, is occurring over 8 days and involves participants walking a total of 90 miles across the Midlands.

Penny Walker, the organiser, explained the three main aims of the walk: to raise awareness about the use of drones in warfare, to protest at drone sites in the UK, and to give solidarity to those killed or injured by drones.

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or aircraft without human pilots. Since the 1960s they have been used largely as military tools to engage in tasks deemed too risky for soldiers, but drones can also be used in a number of civil assignments, such as surveillance or transportation. The UK currently uses military drones in Afghanistan.

Four walkers made the trip into Nottingham on Wednesday. Their numbers have varied throughout the week as people join the peace walk for days or just hours at a time. During their journey the walkers have been sleeping in Methodist churches or staying with members of the public who have agreed to shelter them. In Nottingham they spent their evening at the Friends Meeting House on Clarendon Street.

The walk began on Saturday in Shenstone, Staffordshire, after a demonstration was held at the nearby Elbit factory, where drone engines are manufactured. The following Monday a demonstration took place at the Thales factory on Leciester’s Scudamore Road, a facility which produces electronics for drones. The walk will end on Saturday the 13th when the walkers demonstrate at RAF Waddington. It was recently announced that the air force station will be used to remotely control British drones in Afghanistan which were previously controlled from a base in Nevada.

Ms Walker believes drones are helping to prolong wars, not stop them. “Because they’re controlled remotely, you’re a long way from the point of killing. Very often, wars are stopped when too many body bags come back. If pilots aren’t at threat, it’s much easier to go and attack people because your personnel aren’t at risk,” she said.

Maya Evans, 32, the youngest of the walkers, spent three weeks last December in Afghanistan. She stayed with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a group of young Afghans attempting to foster peace in their country through non-violent initiatives. “It was one of the most extreme experiences of my life,” Ms Evans said. Whilst there, she met a young man whose brother-in-law was killed in a drone strike. “He wasn’t a militant, he was in a house with other civilians. It’s remote controlled murder.”

Response to the peace walk has been mixed. Although some disagree with the views of the walkers, Ms Walker said that people had been mainly receptive to their message. Ms Evans added that the most frequent response to the thought of drone strikes was one of discomfort. “People do recognise that they’re completely inhumane,” she said.

“It’s not about the immediate impact but about sowing seeds. It’s about generally increasing public awareness,” said Bob Dixon, a walker from North Yorkshire.

Ms Walker stressed that drones are indiscriminate, and that their targeting is not accurate enough to ensure no civilian casualties are caused. She said that for those on the ground it is impossible to differentiate between surveillance drones and armed drones, leading to a life of constant dread. She added: “It’s just a terrifying thought.”

The peace walk coincides with other protests taking place across the globe this week, including a march of thousands in Pakistan against US drone strikes.

Lydia Cockerham

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One Comment
  • ishnum munshi
    16 October 2012 at 12:28
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    I actually find this very interesting and hugely relevant to the future and how wars will be fought.

    I’m not sure I agree with the protesters at all, but obviously see why they don’t like drones.

    Lockheed Martin won a contract in 2001 to make the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – it was supposedly going to be cheap (but turned out to be far from it) and good at beating radar. It is planned to enter service in 2016.

    That will be almost certainly be America’s last manned strike fighter – the next generation will all be pilotless armed drones.

    So whether we like it or not the drones are here to stay.

    And why not? Why risk pilots’ lives in war when a robot can do the same and much more cheaply. Think of the cost of training a pilot.

    I think the real key is to make the drones better so their targeting is super accurate and the on-ground intelligence is also faultless.

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