Army drone used against Taliban flown over English Channel to monitor migrant boats for first time

AN ARMY drone used in the UK's fight against the Taliban has been flown over the English Channel to monitor migrant boats for the first time.

It comes as 409 migrants made the crossing yesterday morning alone – shattering the previous record for a single day.

Video recorded this week showed exhausted people staggering ashore at Dover – hours before immigration minister Chris Philp told the Commons that the "dangerous, illegal crossings" must be brought to an end.

Now the Government has brought in a Watchkeeper drone for reconnaissance sorties of the waterway.

The drone took off from Lydd Airport in Kent after new analysis claims nearly 6,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats so far in 2020.

It is the first time the eye-in-the-sky war technology, which was previously used in Afghanistan, has flown operationally in the UK.

The Ministry of Defence said on Twitter it remains "fully committed" to supporting the Home Office.

The drone, which has an 11-metre wingspan, will relieve an R1 Shadow spy plane and a £300 million P8A Poseidon sub-hunting plane, operated by the Royal Air Force.

What is the Watchkeeper drone?

The drone has already been used operationally in the battle against the Taliban

The aircraft is uncrewed, but features a range of high-tech intelligence and reconnaissance cameras.

These are used by army operatives on the ground.

And the drone can be used to identifying objects and people when it's200 kilometres – or 124 miles – away, even at night.

The first Watchkeeper flight was in 2010, and has since accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours.

Its main mission is to identify assets on the ground.

For it to do that, it has been fitted with radar technology and a ground movement indicator.

By 2017, the cost of the programme had reached around £1billion.

The flight comes days after the Royal Navy said its boats had been training in the Solent “to evaluate how they might be used” to tackle Channel crossings.

Mr Philp told MPs the best way to stop the crossings was to send migrants back to the country they first arrived in.

He said: "The countries where these migrants are arriving are manifestly safe countries with fully functioning asylum seeker systems in place.

"Those feeling persecution have had many opportunities to claim asylum in the European countries they have passed through, long before attempt (the Channel) crossing."

He added: "It serves both French and UK interests to cut off this route."

This week, children were among the groups of migrants arriving in Dover after perilous crossings.

Pictures showed young kids being wrapped up in blankets and taken to safety by Border Force officers.

The tide has not stopped despite Home Secretary Priti Patel's efforts to make the dangerous route across the Channel "unviable".

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