27 Sep 2014

UK fighter jets fly into Iraq on combat mission

British Tornado fighter jets fly into Iraq ready to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State group, but the Ministry of Defence says no targets were hit in the first approved combat operation.

Britain has flown its first combat jets into Iraq just hours after the House of Commons backed military action in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Two Tornado fighter jets took off from Cyprus to find targets in Iraq as part of a US-led mission to destroy IS, marking the third time in 25 years Britain has launched military operations in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence said “no targets were identified” on the sortie but confirmed its Tornados are “now ready to be used in an attack role as and when appropriate targets are identified”, and that “invaluable” intelligence was gathered during the mission.

Britain now joins France and Arab nations from the region in the offensive against IS in Iraq, while the US has also targeted the group inside Syria.

On Friday the House of Commons approved a carefully-worded government motion to launch military strikes in Iraq, although speculation is growing that the British mission could extend into Syria, even though MPs were not asked to vote on the prospect.

Prime Minister David Cameron was backed by coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and the Labour opposition in an overwhelming victory in the vote.

Mr Cameron said it was Britain’s duty to take part in the fight against IS because the international operation “is about protecting our people too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to entirely subcontract to other air forces of other countries”.

US strikes have also targeted the Khorasan Group, an affiliate of al-Qaeda unrelated to IS.

British Tornados have been flying reconnaisance missions into Iraq since mid-August but their armed flight into Iraq marks Britain’s entry into the conflict against IS.

Air strikes against IS in Iraq have been requested by the Iraqi government, offering one of the main legal justifications offered by Mr Cameron in his speech to MPs on the need to join military attacks on IS.

But US strikes on IS in Syria have taken place without explicit permission from President Bashar al-Assad’s government, resulting in an uneasy stand-off since Syrian air defences are more advanced than those faced by coalition forces during Libyan operations in 2011.

Controversy is raging over whether Britain will need to put “boots on the ground” to deal fully with the threat posed by IS, which is sprawled across parts of Iraq and Syria and could number 31,000 fighters, according to the CIA.