Thursday 26 April 2018

British RAF jets on first mission to Iraq after MPs back air strikes

Gavin Cordon

British armed jets are on their first mission over Iraq since MPs authorised air strikes targeting IS militants.

RAF warplanes have completed their first mission over Iraq since Parliament gave the go-ahead for air strikes against Islamic State militants.

A still image taken from video shows Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons. Reuters
A still image taken from video shows Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons. Reuters

Two Tornado GR4 fighter bombers were seen returning to their base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus seven hours after they took off supported by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

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There was no immediate word as to whether they had succeeded in attacking any targets on the ground.

Earlier, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement: "We can confirm that, following parliamentary approval given yesterday, RAF Tornados continue to fly over Iraq and are now ready to be used in an attack role as and when appropriate targets are identified.

"For operational security reasons we will not be providing a running commentary on movements; we will provide an update on activity when it is appropriate to do so."

David Cameron said British aircraft were there to "play our part" in the international coalition being amassed against IS - also referred to as Isis or Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant).

"We are one part of a large international coalition," the Prime Minister said during a visit to Didcot, Oxfordshire, ahead of the Conservative Party conference.

"But the crucial part of that coalition is that it is led by the Iraqi government, the legitimate government of Iraq, and its security forces. We are there to play our part and help deal with this appalling terrorist organisation."

Six Tornado jets have been based in Cyprus since last month but have so far been restricted to reconnaissance flights.

The RAF also has a Rivet Joint spy plane in the region which is stepping up surveillance efforts to identify potential targets, while intelligence will also be sought from Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground.

"There are moving targets obviously - convoys of Isil fighters whom we can identify with the surveillance that we are going to intensify," Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said last night.

The United States has been carrying out air strikes in northern Iraq since mid-August - supported by the French since last week - and most of the obvious targets have already been hit.

The mission comes after the Commons voted yesterday by 524 to 43 - a majority of 481 - to endorse attacks on the militants in Iraq in support of the United States-led coalition, with Labour backing the Government's motion.

But despite the overwhelming majority in favour of military action, there were concerns on all sides of the House that - 11 years after the invasion of Iraq - Britain was again embarking on military action in the Middle East.

At the same time, there was criticism from both Conservative and Labour MPs that UK air strikes were being restricted to Iraq and that IS targets in Syria - the movement's birthplace - were excluded.

Mr Cameron said the motion had been limited to Iraq in order to secure cross-party consensus and avoid a repeat of last year's damaging Commons defeat when Labour combined with Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels to block air strikes against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.

But Mr Fallon indicated that the Government may well eventually have to come back to the House again to seek support for extending military action into Syria - where the US and Arab allies have already carried out air strikes.

This is the first mission since the UK Parliament voted largely in favour of David Cameron’s proposal to join US-led strikes on the militants.

The Ministry of Defense said: "We can confirm that, following parliamentary approval given yesterday, RAF Tornados continue to fly over Iraq and are now ready to be used in an attack role as and when appropriate targets are identified.

"For operational security reasons we will not be providing a running commentary on movements; we will provide an update on activity when it is appropriate to do so."

Press Association

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