Middle East Turmoil

British warplanes hit first Isis targets in Iraq mission

Sam Jones, Defense and Security Editor
Peter Macdiarmid | Getty Images

British warplanes struck their first targets in Iraq on Tuesday, four days after Westminster voted for military action to help international efforts against Islamist jihadis there.

However, the return of UK military force to Iraq was a modest one: two GR4 Tornado aircraft interrupted a surveillance flight to support Kurdish peshmerga fighters who were under attack from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, in northeastern Iraq in mid-afternoon.

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Using information gained from the Litening III surveillance pods on the aircraft, an Isis heavy weaponry position was identified and attacked with a Paveway laser-guided bomb, according to the Ministry of Defense. An armed pickup truck was also identified and hit with a Brimstone missile.

Since approval was gained for military force on Friday – after weeks of negotiations in Westminster and hours of debate – Tornados flying from the RAF's base in Akrotiri in Cyprus have been on five fully armed sorties to Iraq.

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But until now no Isis targets had been identified, reflecting both the speed with which Isis has adapted its tactics after US-led air strikes against it in recent weeks, and the limitations of conducting strikes in Iraq only. The UK government's mandate from MPs does not extend across the border into Syria, where Isis has its strongholds.

The US and its Arab allies have conducted extensive strikes in Syria over the past week, dropping hundreds of bombs on Isis command and logistics centers and military bases. A number of other European nations and allies have also begun aerial attacks. Belgium, Denmark and France have all sent aircraft to bomb insurgents in Iraq, as has Australia.

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Military experts have warned that air strikes are only likely to succeed in containing Isis, rather than reducing it and its capabilities.

The US and other western governments have all ruled out sending troops to Iraq or Syria in combat roles. But calls for more full-throated military support may grow if the effectiveness of air strikes begins to wane. The US has more than 1,500 troops in Iraq in advisory and strategic roles behind the front lines, helping both Kurdish and Iraqi government forces.