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UK base linked to US drone strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani: Report

While technically a Royal Air Force base, Menwith Hill is also the largest known overseas site of the US National Security Agency
The Royal Air Force Base Menwith Hill in Yorkshire provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US (AFP/file photo)

Human rights groups have called on the British government to explain whether an intelligence base in Yorkshire has been involved in a series of drone strike assassinations in recent years. 

The calls come after a report entitled "Menwith Hill in 3D, Domes, Data and Drone Strikes" was released on Saturday. The report, seen by the Guardian, raises concerns over UK involvement in US attacks, particularly the 2020 killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, which brought Washington and Tehran to the brink of war. 

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Written by journalist Barnaby Pace on behalf of the Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC) and funded by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the report says that researchers determined it "was probable" that the Soleimani strike was planned using information obtained from the Menwith Hill intelligence base. 

The Yorkshire base provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US. Although technically a Royal Air Force (RAF) base, Menwith Hill is also the largest known overseas site of the US National Security Agency (NSA), with 600 US personnel and 500 British civilians in place. 

In the report, researchers question whether British personnel at Menwith Hill have been involved in assisting US drone attacks in conflict zones in which the UK has no authorisation to operate, such as those that have taken place in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

"Intelligence programmes at Menwith Hill have reportedly played a key role in operations to ‘eliminate’ people in Yemen, as part of a deadly drone bombing campaign that has resulted in dozens of civilian deaths in a country that neither the UK nor US has declared war with," Pace writes. 

While the US justifies the legality of its drone strikes in Yemen with its Authorisation of Military Force Act passed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, no similar law exists in the UK. 

'Capture-kill' operations

In the report, Pace complains that US and UK forces at Menwith Hill "operate beyond public scrutiny and accountability". 

"Any US military activity or US security agency activity carried out at Menwith Hill [must] be carried out in such a way as to make those responsible fully accountable to the UK," Pace says, warning that without outside pressure, "Orwellian surveillance systems and extrajudicial executions exposed in recent years will likely continue".

'The involvement of the UK in an assassination that threatened to spark a war should be of great concern'

-Barnaby Pace, journalist

Known for its massive white-domed radar equipment, the base made headlines when documents from the Snowden files were leaked, as they revealed Menwith Hill to be part of an eavesdropping network with the ability to spy on hundreds of millions of emails and phone calls daily and to pinpoint specific phones on the ground.

Pace - citing his previously published analysis of the Snowden files, among other leaks - has alleged that information gathered at Menwith Hill has been used in "capture-kill" operations, including the tracking of Taliban targets in Afghanistan in 2011, which lead to the deaths of around 30 people. 

Another programme associated with the base, "Ghostwolf", resulted in the deaths of at least 86 civilians, including 28 children, during the Trump administration, Pace says. In light of the leaks, researchers concluded that it was likely that Menwith Hill had a role to play in the killing of Soleimani in January 2020, the Guardian reported. 

British ministers have refused to comment on whether the Yorkshire base has played a role in such drone strikes, repeatedly referring to a longstanding policy that "we do not comment on the details of the operations carried out at RAF Menwith Hill". But Pace has argued that such secrecy raises serious questions. 

"The involvement of the UK and Menwith Hill in an assassination that threatened to spark a war should be of great concern," Pace wrote in reference to the Soleimani killing. 

"The UK government’s failure to assure the public that the base was not involved raises deep questions about the accountability for actions at the base".