Update: air strikes in Iraq
21 September 2015
British forces have continued to conduct air operations to assist the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIL.
Royal Air Force aircraft have conducted numerous attacks on ISIL terrorists in the recent days, as part of the coalition air campaign to support Iraqi ground forces.
A high tempo of air operations has been maintained, with RAF aircraft, including Tornado GR4 and Reaper reconnaissance and strike aircraft, flying daily missions over northern and western Iraq.
On Tuesday 8 September, a Reaper patrolling over western Iraq discovered several large stockpiles of explosives close to the Euphrates River. It destroyed one of the stockpiles with its own Hellfire missile – a skiff waiting to transport the explosives was sunk in the blast - and helped coalition fast jets target three more. The Reaper's crew also provided support to successful air strikes on a terrorist-held compound and a fighting position.
The following day, a Reaper used Hellfires to destroy two vehicles being prepared as car-bombs, and on Thursday 10 September, another Reaper patrol identified a group of heavily armed ISIL fighters gathering in a building. Both the building and a vehicle used by the terrorists were destroyed with Hellfires, and the Reaper also assisted coalition aircraft in 13 successful attacks on further terrorist positions nearby. Elsewhere in the country, a second Reaper conducted two attacks on extremists attempting to attack Iraqi troops, whilst in northern Iraq, a pair of Tornado GR4s used a Paveway IV precision guided bomb to destroy a building from which the terrorists had been firing a heavy weapon at the Kurdish peshmerga.
RAF support to the peshmerga continued into Friday 11 September; a Reaper supported a Kurdish offensive operation to clear an ISIL-held village, in the course of which it engaged a defensive position with a Hellfire.
On Sunday 13 September, again in northern Iraq, near to Sinjar, a Paveway from a Tornado mission destroyed a terrorist group, armed with rocket-propelled grenades.
Monday saw the Tornado GR4s patrolling near Mosul, where they attacked a rocket-firing position, while a Reaper operating over Anbar province, struck a pair of terrorists who had been spotted preparing a booby-trap, then supported two further coalition air strikes in the area.
On Tuesday 15 September, a Reaper assisted coalition strikes on ISIL rocket launchers in western Iraq, then used Hellfires to attack an ISIL team as they attempted to arm a "daisy-chain" of linked improvised explosive devices and a GBU-12 guided bomb against a hostile fighting position.
GR4s bombed two terrorist positions, including a heavy-machine gun, which were firing on Kurdish troops on Wednesday 16 September, and in western Iraq a Reaper destroyed an engineering vehicle and a large car-bomb which ISIL were positioning to attempt to hold up Iraqi advances.
Whilst the coalition air campaign provides support to the Iraqi forces currently in combat, intensive work continues to help train and equip those units preparing to enter the front line. The UK has supplied 1,000 Vallon mine detectors which, along with the techniques taught by British and coalition military instructors on how to tackle improvised explosive devices, have already saved many lives from these hidden menaces.
Previous air strikes
2 August: Another Reaper destroyed a further truck in the same area, and provided surveillance support for a successful coalition air strike on an armed pick-up truck.
4 August: Following these peshmerga successes, the ISIL terrorists had fallen back to the south-eastern foothills of Mount Sinjar, where they had taken over numerous buildings for use as headquarters, barracks, ammunition and equipment depots, all supporting a network of fortified positions several kilometres in length. Extensive surveillance by both the Kurdish troops on Mount Sinjar and from coalition aircraft confirmed that there was no residual civilian presence at these sites, and allowed some forty terrorist targets to be positively identified. This intelligence work allowed the coalition to mount a large, carefully planned air attack on this array of targets, coordinated with a barrage of mortar and heavy weapon fire from the Kurdish positions on the mountain. Two RAF Tornado GR4s, supported by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker, used Paveway IV precision guided bombs to strike six of the fortified ISIL targets. Initial analysis indicates that the attack was a success.
5 August: An RAF Reaper meanwhile provided close air support to Iraqi army offensive operations in Anbar province. A group of armed terrorists were spotted getting into a vehicle, which was then tracked by the Reaper's crew – despite the speed of the target, it was successfully hit by a Hellfire missile. Two GR4s also supported Iraqi units near Bayji, and successfully destroyed a vehicle and terrorist group attempting to hide under pipework at a disused industrial site with a Paveway IV.
6 August: Our aircraft once more provided close air support to the peshmerga, this time to the east of Mosul, and Tornado GR4s used a Brimstone missile to destroy a pick-up truck used by a terrorist rocket team.
9 August: An RAF Reaper remotely piloted aircraft provided close air support to Iraqi army units conducting operations against ISIL terrorists in western Iraq. A large trailer was identified, concealed under trees, being loaded with bags of explosives. The Reaper's crew destroyed the trailer and the explosives with a pair of Hellfire missiles. A second vehicle carrying explosives was then investigated in the same area and, despite again being concealed under trees, a direct hit from a Hellfire destroyed the truck and its deadly load.
Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, two Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri, supported by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker, were similarly denying the terrorists large quantities of explosives; another coalition aircraft had identified large stockpiles being held by ISIL in two storage buildings at a site from which the civilians had been driven out. Two Paveway bombs were used to strike the buildings, with the stockpiled explosives completely destroyed.
10 August: A Reaper operating in support of the Kurdish peshmerga; it conducted four successful Hellfire attacks during its patrol, destroying an enemy vehicle and three terrorist positions. Tornado GR4s were also active, conducting simultaneous attacks with Brimstone missiles on an ISIL excavator and truck which were caught in the process of constructing fortified positions near Khorsabad.
11 August: GR4s used a Paveway guided bomb to hit yet another large stockpile of explosives, which it appeared were being prepared for use as improvised explosive devices.
12 August: An RAF Reaper delivered successful Hellfire attacks on a Da'ish position and a truck.
13 August: Coalition aircraft, including two RAF GR4s, staged a large coordinated air strike against a terrorist strongpoint in northern Iraq, to the east of Tal Afar. This was at a village, the population of which had forced out by ISIL, with the buildings turned into fortified positions in the front line against the advancing Kurdish peshmerga. Very careful surveillance by both the Kurdish troops and aerial reconnaissance allowed a number of key elements of the strong point to be identified, including headquarters, terrorist accommodation, equipment stores and heavy weapon positions. This patient and thorough intelligence analysis allowed a coordinated attack to be mounted by coalition jets against multiple targets, with the GR4s dropping Paveway IV guided bombs. A second flight of GR4s then provided close air support through the evening to the peshmerga, in the course of which a successful strike was conducted on a terrorist mortar position.
14 August: An RAF Reaper flew overwatch for Iraqi troops, supported by artillery, as they engaged a number of terrorist positions. The Reaper's crew used its advanced surveillance capabilities to pinpoint a group of terrorists who were firing on the Iraqi forces from a concealed position in a treeline, allowing coalition fast jets to conduct a successful strike with guided bombs. The Reaper then identified a heavy machine-gun team and eliminated the threat with an Hellfire missile. It continued to work closely with the coalition fast jets, assisting them in an attack that destroyed two more terrorist positions, then delivered another Hellfire attack of its own, destroying a truck as the ISIL extremists retreated.
16 August: Tornado GR4s providing close air support to the Iraqi army near Bayji spotted two ISIL vehicles – a bulldozer and an armoured truck – close to the front line. The vehicles were destroyed by a simultaneous attack with a pair of Paveway IV guided bombs.
18 August: A Reaper operating over western Iraq used a Hellfire to strike an armed pick-up truck, with a second such vehicle destroyed the following day by another Reaper.
19 August: A Tornado GR4 patrol providing support to the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq used Paveways to destroy first a pair of rocket launchers, then an ISIL supply truck.
20 August: A Tornado patrol located two mechanical excavator vehicles near Mosul, which the ISIL terrorists were using to construct fortified positions to defend against the Kurdish peshmerga's recent successful offensives in the area. Both of the vehicles were destroyed by our aircraft using Brimstone missiles. Further south, an RAF Reaper was providing support that day to Iraqi army units; a large truck-bomb was spotted, positioned on the central reservation of a major road to threaten any advance by the Iraqi security forces along that route. A Hellfire missile destroyed the vehicle. The Reaper's crew then conducted surveillance against a building suspected of being a bomb-making location, where armed terrorists were seen moving a large number of sacks of home-made explosives, and preparing improvised explosive devices. Successful Hellfire attacks were conducted against the facility and the bomb-makers.
21 August: Reaper Hellfires were used to destroy two ISIL fighting positions, including one heavy machine-gun team that had opened fire on the Iraqi forces.
22 August: A Tornado patrol near Ar Rutbah located another pair of engineering vehicles which were being used by the terrorists to construct defences, and these were both destroyed by direct hits from Brimstone missiles.
24 August: A Reaper helped a coalition fast jet to successfully target a well-concealed terrorist sniper who was firing on Iraqi security forces, and the next day saw another Reaper conduct three Hellfire attacks on terrorist positions.
26 August: Reapers were particularly active, supporting the Kurdish peshmerga, and conducted a total of five successful strikes on terrorist groups attempting to manoeuvre on foot and in vehicles in the open desert.
27 August: An RAF Reaper flew an armed reconnaissance mission over northern Iraq, where offensives by the Kurdish peshmerga have forced the ISIL terrorists onto the defensive. The Reaper spotted a pick-up truck and a Hellfire missile scored a direct hit and a very large secondary blast confirmed that it had been loaded with explosives for use as a suicide truck-bomb.
28 August: Again in northern Iraq, another RAF Reaper observed ISIL extremists forcing civilian occupants to flee from a village. Our aircraft observed groups of armed terrorists making their way to a building in the middle of the village; a Hellfire missile destroyed the building.
30 August: GR4 patrol identified an excavator being used by ISIL to prepare a defensive position east of Mosul; the vehicle was destroyed with a Paveway IV guided bomb.
1 September: A Reaper patrolling in western Iraq, where it spotted a vehicle check-point close to the Syrian border being used by the terrorists to prevent the movement of traffic. The Reaper's crew conducted a successful strike with a Hellfire.
2 September: Another Reaper provided air support to Iraqi army units operating in western Iraq. The aircraft conducted four successful attacks on terrorist targets. With the ISIL in Ramadi increasingly cut-off and isolated by the Iraqi security forces, terrorists were spotted loading hundreds of mortar and rocket rounds onto a boat, which then attempted to smuggle the ammunition down the Euphrates river. A direct hit by one of the Reaper's Hellfires sank the boat and its cargo.
The Reaper then destroyed three vehicles – two armoured trucks and a bull-dozer - using a pair of Hellfire missiles and a Paveway guided bomb, with significant secondary explosions confirming large quantities of explosives. Elsewhere in Iraq, a second Reaper successfully attacked a terrorist position with a Hellfire, whilst GR4s located an enemy engineering vehicle near Mosul, constructing a fortified position, and destroyed it with a Paveway.
3 September: A Reaper observed another load of mortar and rocket ammunition being prepared for transport and destroyed it with a Hellfire.
4 September: A Reaper patrol supported two coalition air strikes on terrorist positions, then conducted its own attack on an ISIL team armed with rocket-propelled grenades, after they had fired on Iraqi forces.
6 September: Two Tornado GR4s conducted four Paveway strikes on a series of machine-gun nests near Sinjar, neutralising the threat these presented to the Kurds.
7 September: A Reaper destroyed an ammunition truck, whilst the reconnaissance work of another Reaper discovered a large terrorist network of bunkers and trenches: our aircraft provided targeting support to three successful attacks by coalition fast and conducted five attacks with its own weapons. Near Bayji, a pair of Tornado GR4s flew close air support for Iraqi troops, and used Paveway IVs to destroy three buildings held by terrorist teams.
On the ground, British military instructors continue to make a significant contribution to the coalition's programme to help the Iraqi security forces improve their training and equipment. With the terrorists heavily reliant on improvised explosive devices and other booby-traps to slow down Iraqi advances, the counter-IED training and Vallon mine detectors provided by the British teams have already helped save many lives.
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