Hundreds of anti-war protesters descended on a Royal Air Force (RAF) base on Saturday after it was revealed that it was being used to run armed drone operations in Afghanistan, previously operated from a U.S. Air Force base in Nevada.

The Ministry of Defence admitted that the RAF had begun remotely operating hi-tech unmanned Reaper drones from its Lincolnshire base earlier this week.

The drones carry bombs and Hellfire missiles for precision strikes but the Ministry insisted that they were being used only for surveillance.

“U.K. Reaper aircraft are piloted by highly trained professional military pilots who adhere strictly to the same laws of armed conflict and are bound by the same clearly defined rules of engagement which apply to traditionally manned RAF aircraft,” it said.

Protesters, who carried placards saying “Ground the drones”, said the decision to move the operations from America to Britain marked a “significant expansion” of British involvement in the use of drones which claimed increased civilian casualties.

The United Nations (U.N.) has launched an inquiry into the impact on civilians of drone strikes and other targeted killings, saying a proper legal framework is needed to provide accountability.

“I think people feel that there is something sinister and disturbing about the idea that someone can attack a foreign country thousands of miles away with, simply, the push of a button and this technology that is being introduced is giving carte blanche to governments to fight wars behind the backs of people with no public scrutiny or accountability. That’s the fundamental problem,” said Chris Nineham, vice-chairman of the Stop the War Coalition which, along with other anti-war groups, organised the protest.

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