UK's Syria air campaign has 'little impact'
Britain's claims rubbished as figures show just four RAF strikes on Isil
Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30
Britain's controversial air campaign in Syria has been branded a "non-event" after it emerged the RAF has carried out only one attack on the country in the last four weeks.
Since MPs voted for air attacks on Isil in Syria, RAF Tornados and Typhoons have mounted only three strike missions - all in the first five days of the operation. No RAF manned strikes have been conducted on any Syrian target since December 6.
The only further strike was on Christmas Day by an unmanned, remote-controlled Reaper drone, bringing the total number of British strike missions to just four.
Figures released by US Central Command (Centcom), which is running the operation, suggest that during their missions the RAF may have dropped as few as 19 bombs.
The disclosures call into question claims by British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, at the beginning of the Syria operation that the UK was "really upping the tempo" with an "intense focus" on hitting infrastructure.
He also claimed that the manned missions in the first week of December had been "successful" and had struck "a very real blow" against Isil. In fact, all of the RAF manned missions were against the Omar oilfield, which had already suffered "long-term incapacitation" in a much larger US raid in October.
Britain has carried out reconnaissance over Syria and continued to make air strikes on Isil targets in Iraq, both of which it was already doing before MPs voted last month.
"There is a disconnect between the heated political debate in Britain over Syria and what actually happened," said Jon Lake, a military aviation expert. "Britain's air campaign in Syria so far is basically a non-event which can have had little, if any, impact."
Between December 1 and 22, according to figures from Centcom, US, British and other coalition aircraft carried out a total of 148 air strikes on Syria. The US carried out 127 and the "rest of the coalition" 21, according to the Centcom figures. French aircraft carried out two strikes, meaning that no more than 19 strikes were carried out by the RAF. A 'strike' means that at least one bomb or missile was used.
Ministry of Defence reports of the RAF's three attack missions in Syria spoke of them striking at least 17 targets. The drone attack on December 25 involved firing a single Hellfire missile at an Isil checkpoint south of Raqqa.
The RAF's contribution to reconnaissance over Syria is more significant, with some reporting it is providing up to 60pc of the coalition's tactical reconnaissance capability. It did not specify the number of reconnaissance missions flown.