October 23, 2012 - 09:48 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The UK is to double the number of armed RAF "drones" flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the aircraft will be controlled from terminals and screens in Britain, the Guardian reported.
In the new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan. It is expected they will begin operations within six weeks.
Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months.
The UK's existing five Reaper drones, which are used to target suspected insurgents in Helmand, have been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada because Britain has not had the capability to fly them from here.
After "standing up" the new XIII squadron in a ceremony this Friday, the UK will soon have 10 Reapers in Afghanistan. The government has yet to decide whether the aircraft will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to end.
"The new squadron will have three control terminals at RAF Waddington, and the five aircraft will be based in Afghanistan," a spokesman confirmed. "We will continue to operate the other Reapers from Creech though, in time, we will wind down operations there and bring people back to the UK."
The use of drones has become one of the most controversial features of military strategy in Afghanistan. The UK has been flying them almost non-stop since 2008.
The most recent figures from the Ministry of Defense show that, by the end of September, the UK's five Reapers in Afghanistan had flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents.
The MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimize civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment.