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Update: air strikes in Iraq and Syria

3 December 2015

British forces have continued to conduct air operations in the fight against Daesh

Latest update

Following the vote in the House of Commons last night, Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft flew their first offensive operation against Daesh terrorist targets inside Syria.

The mainstay of Daesh's financial income is derived from exploitation of a number of oilfields that they hold. These are overwhelmingly located in Daesh's heartlands in eastern Syria. Several of these oilfields have already been effectively targeted by other coalition partners; RAF aircraft and precision weaponry are well suited to attacking, with low collateral risk, this type of target.

Overnight, RAF Tornado GR4s, supported by a Voyager air refuelling tanker and a Reaper, and operating in conjunction with other coalition aircraft, employed Paveway IV guided bombs to conduct strikes against six targets within the extensive oilfield at Omar, 35 miles inside Syria's eastern border with Iraq. The Omar oilfield is one of the largest and most important to Daesh's financial operations, and represents over 10% of their potential income from oil. Carefully selected elements of the oilfield infrastructure were targeted, ensuring the strikes will have a significant impact on Daesh's ability to extract the oil to fund their terrorism.

Coalition air operations have already degraded Daesh's front-line military capabilities and have assisted the Iraqi ground forces in liberating some 30% of the territory that the terrorists initially seized in that country during the summer of 2014. By extending RAF offensive operations into Syria, our aircraft are now able to help dismantle the means by which Daesh plan, direct and sustain their campaign of terror.

Before our aircrew conducted their attacks, as is normal they used the aircraft's advanced sensors to confirm that no civilians were in the proximity of the targets, who might be placed at risk. Our initial analysis of the operation indicates that the strikes were successful.

Previous air strikes

1 October: An RAF Reaper remotely piloted aircraft patrolled ahead of Kurdish peshmerga as they conducted their latest offensive against the ISIL terror network in northern Iraq. The Reaper's crew identified a team of armed terrorists moving on foot and successfully engaged them with a Hellfire missile. The Reaper then provided support to a coalition air strike on an ISIL facility, where car-bombs were being assembled; our aircraft used its sensors to sweep the surrounding area, ensuring there was no risk to civilians, before the air strike went ahead and destroyed the target.

2 October: Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri also provided close air support to the peshmerga, south-west of Kirkuk. ISIL extremists were spotted and were struck by a Paveway IV guided bomb. Meanwhile, further south and west, a Reaper provided surveillance support to a coalition air strike on an ISIL-held building, then used one of its Hellfires to destroy an armoured truck. The Reaper then provided targeting support to another coalition aircraft as it engaged a terrorist heavy machine-gun concealed under trees.

4 October: RAF GR4s patrolling over western Iraq, where they destroyed an anti-aircraft gun position with a Paveway IV. A Reaper was also operating over Anbar province, and it supported coalition air attacks on two Da'ish buildings and a heavy machine-gun.

5 October: A Reaper, again operating over the west of the country, identified a terrorist team as they planted an improvised explosive device, and successfully attacked them with a Hellfire.

7 October: A pair of Tornados assisted Kurdish security forces when an advance west of Kirkuk came under fire from an ISIL mortar. The terrorist heavy weapon was struck by a Paveway IV precision guided bomb.

8 October: A Reaper located an ISIL check-point, used to prevent local civilians from enjoying any freedom of movement. The Reaper's crew were able to conduct a successful attack using a Hellfire missile.

11 October: Tornado GR4s again provided close air support to the Kurdish forces, on this occasion north of Mosul. As with the incident earlier in the week, a terrorist mortar opened fire on the peshmerga, but was silenced by a Paveway IV strike.

16 October: GR4s used a Paveway to destroy an ISIL heavy machine-gun position.

18 October: A Reaper patrolling ahead of Iraqi troops identified two large truck-bombs and successfully attacked them with Hellfire missiles.

21 October: Two Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri identified a group of armed ISIL terrorists in Ramadi and successfully engaged them with a Paveway IV guided bomb.

23 October: The crew of a Reaper remotely piloted aircraft identified an ISIL armoured personnel carrier, concealed under a large building. Despite the difficulty this target posed, the crew were able to position to destroy the vehicle with a Hellfire missile. The Reaper then supported another coalition aircraft in a successful strike on a second terrorist vehicle which had been identified nearby.

24 October: Another Reaper worked closely with coalition jets to carry out a series of precision attacks on terrorist positions. The Reaper identified two terrorist sniper positions, which were struck by guided bombs from a coalition aircraft. Advancing Iraqi troops then came into close combat with a group of terrorists; the Reaper maintained close observation on the firefight, and was able to eliminate one terrorist team, without endangering the Iraqi soldiers, using a Hellfire missile. When the terrorists retreated to positions in a trench and a culvert, the Reaper provided surveillance support to a coalition air strike which destroyed the trench, and conducted a second Hellfire strike itself on the extremists.

25 October: An RAF Reaper again joined forces with coalition fast jets to help them target two terrorist-held buildings which were successfully attacked, then mounted two strikes with Hellfire missiles on ISIL terrorists as they attempted to reposition themselves.

29 October: Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri, supported by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker, provided close air support to Iraqi troops operating near Bayji. A number of ISIL terrorists were observed manoeuvring towards an Iraqi position, and our aircraft successfully attacked three groups with Paveway IV guided bombs. Later that day, another GR4 flight conducted a strike on a fortified terrorist position near Tal Afar in the north-west of the country, hitting three targets with Paveways.

30 October: A pair of GR4s again provided close air support to the Iraqi army, on this occasion near the occupied city of Ramadi. Two Paveways successfully disrupted an attempted terrorist attack on an Iraqi unit. The ISIL terrorists then opened fire on the Iraqis with two light anti-aircraft cannons. Despite difficult weather conditions, the highly capable GR4s were able to target the gun positions using a second pair of Paveway IVs, and both terrorist guns were knocked out and the threat to them removed.

1 November: An RAF Reaper used a Hellfire missile to destroy a group of terrorists in close combat with Iraqi troops, while a second Reaper, operating over Anbar province, worked in close cooperation with coalition fast jets to assist Iraqi operations to isolate the ISIL terrorists in and around Ramadi. The Reaper provided surveillance support to six coalition air strikes on terrorists manoeuvring in the area, and conducted four highly accurate strikes of its own using Hellfire missiles on groups of extremists as they attempted to reposition themselves against the advancing Iraqi forces. In north-west Iraq, Tornado GR4s were meanwhile supporting Kurdish peshmerga near Sinjar: three Paveway attacks destroyed an armed pick-up truck, a weapons cache, and a sniper position.

2 November: A Reaper conducted three successful strikes with two Hellfire missiles and a GBU-12 guided bomb against ISIL terrorist positions in western Iraq, including an anti-aircraft gun which the Reaper had located.

3 November: A GR4 patrol again provided support to the Kurdish forces near Sinjar. A Brimstone missile destroyed a terrorist weapons cache, and a Paveway destroyed a mortar position on the top of a building.

5 November: ISIL terrorists are under heavy pressure in both northern Iraq, where the Kurdish peshmerga continue to push them back, and in Anbar province, where Iraqi troops have isolated the ISIL forces inside Ramadi. RAF Tornado GR4 and Reaper aircraft have flown daily armed reconnaissance missions over both areas, as part of the coalition's intensive air campaign, and have conducted precision attacks in close coordination with the Iraqi ground forces. A particular focus has been around Sinjar city, in preparation for a large Kurdish offensive to drive ISIL from their remaining positions in the southern part of the town. ISIL positions in and around Sinjar have been methodically targeted by coalition aircraft ahead of the ground assault by the Kurdish security forces. As part of these preparations for the Kurdish attack Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri were able, despite bad weather, to use Paveway IV guided bombs against a pair of ISIL fortified positions near Sinjar; the Kurdish unit whom the GR4s were supporting confirmed that both terrorist positions had been destroyed.

8 November: The GR4s were again in action over northern Iraq, destroying a further two ISIL positions near Tal Afar, which had been firing at Kurdish forces, including a rocket launch site concealed in a building.

9 November: The GR4s provided close air support to a Kurdish unit on the outskirts of Sinjar, which was in close combat with terrorists, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, who were defending a fortified compound. Despite the proximity of the Kurdish troops, our aircrew were able to conduct a carefully planned attack with two Paveway IV guided bombs that destroyed the compound.

11 November: A Reaper used a GBU-12 guided bomb to destroy a terrorist-held building near Sinjar, then successfully attacked with a Hellfire missile a group of ISIL fighters as they attempted to move to a new position. Meanwhile, over Ramadi, a Tornado patrol destroyed a terrorist truck bomb with a Brimstone missile.

12 November: As Kurdish forces launch a major offensive against ISIL terrorists in northern Iraq, the Royal Air Force has been playing a full part in coalition reconnaissance and strike missions to provide effective air support to them and other Iraqi ground forces. Royal Air Force aircraft provided continued close air support to the successful Kurdish offensive around Sinjar city as well as to Iraqi operations in Ramadi. An RAF Reaper worked closely with other coalition aircraft to ensure that the Kurdish soldiers fighting to retake Sinjar received constant and immediate support from the air. The advanced surveillance sensors on the Reaper allowed it to search ahead of the advancing peshmerga and identify ISIL terrorist activity. In addition to this invaluable intelligence support, the Reaper's controllers were also able to conduct two successful strikes with Hellfire missiles on groups of terrorists as they attempted to react to the Kurdish advance. Although Sinjar was the focus for much coalition air activity, patrols were maintained over other areas of Iraq where the fight against ISIL continues, and RAF Tornado GR4s provided close air support to the Iraqi units closing in on the terrorist positions in Ramadi. Just north of the city, a terrorist supply truck was identified at the mouth of an underpass, and destroyed by a direct hit from a Brimstone missile.

13 November: Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri, supported by a Voyager air tanker, provided close air support to Iraqi troops fighting in the area around Ramadi. Our aircraft conducted four successful attacks on a set of Da'ish terrorist positions, using a combination of Paveway IV guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. A second Tornado patrol continued to support the Iraqi forces during the night, and destroyed a terrorist armoured personnel carrier with a direct hits from a Brimstone missile. Meanwhile, further north an RAF Reaper assisted an Iraqi unit which reported that, following a firefight, a group of Da'ish terrorists had taken shelter in a derelict industrial site, hiding under an oil tank. Despite the close proximity of the Iraqi soldiers, the Reaper's crew were able to direct a GBU-12 guided bomb onto the terrorist position and destroy it, without risk to the friendly forces.

15 November: As Kurdish troops continued their successful offensive in northern Iraq, an RAF Reaper flew overwatch, destroying a terrorist vehicle with a Hellfire missile. The Reaper then crossed into Syrian airspace where it conducted routine intelligence collection against ISIL and provided surveillance support to the major French air strike on a large terrorist facility near Raqqa. On Monday 16 November, two successive Tornado patrols extended the support to the Kurdish offensive. The first flight used a Paveway bomb to destroy a mortar position which had opened fire on the Kurds. The following mission destroyed a heavy machine-gun near Mosul with a Paveway IV, then proceeded west towards Sinjar. There was heavy cloud, which may have encouraged the terrorists to assume that they were safe from air attack, but working very closely with the Kurdish forces, the GR4s were able to guide a Paveway onto a large group of over 30 Da'ish terrorists who were massing for a counter-attack; the Kurdish unit subsequently reported that the air strike had been highly effective. The Tornado patrol then destroyed another ISIL mortar position south-west of Sinjar.

17 November: Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri provided close air support to Iraqi ground forces closing in on Ramadi. Our aircraft conducted three successful attacks with Paveway IV guided bombs, destroying an improvised artillery piece – a so-called "Hell Cannon" – and two heavy machine-gun positions. Support was also given to the Kurdish forces as they exploited their recent victory at Sinjar, and on Thursday, Tornados used a Paveway to destroy a Da'ish sniper position which had opened fire on Kurdish troops, then scored a direct hit with a Brimstone missile on a terrorist vehicle near Sinjar. The same day saw a Reaper flying overwatch for Iraqi troops further south, and it successfully struck a group of terrorists with a Hellfire missile.

20 November: Reapers conducted three strikes, two Hellfires destroyed an armed pick-up truck and a terrorist check-point, whilst a GBU-12 guided bomb eliminated a large group of terrorists gathered at a weapons cache. Two more ISIL check-points were struck by a Reaper over northern Iraq on Saturday, while on Sunday 22 November, Tornado GR4s attacked a Da'ish vehicle armed with an anti-aircraft gun and a stockpile of home-made explosives, destroying both with Paveways.

25 November: A particular focus for RAF air operations was over northern Iraq, assisting the Kurdish peshmerga who recently inflicted a significant defeat on the Da'ish extremists at Sinjar. During the morning, two Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri patrolled near Mosul, and conducted three precision attacks with Paveway IV guided bombs on groups of terrorist fighters. In addition, a terrorist vehicle was destroyed by a direct hit from a Brimstone missile. The Tornados then flew west to the area south-east of Sinjar, where a fourth Paveway strike destroyed a Da'ish heavy machine-gun position. A second Tornado patrol continued to support the Kurdish ground operations into the night, and it used a Paveway to destroy a heavy machine-gun position to the south-west of Sinjar. The GR4s were supported, as normal, by a Voyager air tanker. Meanwhile, an RAF Reaper remotely piloted aircraft was also providing overwatch for the Kurdish troops, using its advanced surveillance sensors, and its crew conducted a successful attack with a GBU-12 guided bomb on a building in a terrorist-held compound near Mosul. Other RAF aircraft making a vital contribution to the air campaign include the Sentinel and Air Seeker surveillance aircraft. These make up a large percentage of the coalition's overall ability to collect strategic intelligence on terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria, and complement well the sophisticated tactical reconnaissance capabilities of the Tornado and Reaper.

26 November: RAF Tornado GR4 and Reaper aircraft have continued to fly daily armed reconnaissance missions over Iraq, gathering intelligence and striking terrorist targets as they are identified. A Reaper remotely piloted aircraft operated with coalition fast jets providing close air support to Iraqi units conducting offensive operations against ISIL in Ramadi. The Reaper's crew provided surveillance assistance to a successful coalition strike that eliminated an ISIL sniper team and then employed its own GBU-12 guided bomb to destroy a terrorist-held building.

Meanwhile, Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri were flying close air support for Kurdish forces who were exploiting their recent victory over the terrorists at Sinjar. An ISIL heavy machine-gun opened fire on the Kurds near Kisik, but an accurate Paveway attack by the GR4s through heavy cloud successfully dealt with the threat.

27 November: A Reaper was again active over Ramadi, where it assisted a coalition air strike on a terrorist-held building. The Reaper then observed a fuel tanker which had been adapted to be a large booby-trap; this was positioned in an area from which the civilian population had fled, and which lay in the path of the Iraqi advance. A precision attack with a Hellfire missile safely destroyed the tanker. A second Reaper supported the Kurds south of Sinjar, and conducted two successful attacks with its Hellfires, destroying two terrorist vehicles, one of which was a car-bomb.

29 November: A Tornado patrol over western Iraq conducted four strikes around Ramadi and Haditha: our aircraft used Paveway IVs to neutralise yet another large car-bomb, and destroy two ISIL-held buildings. The fourth strike was with a Brimstone missile, which eliminated a pair of terrorists, mounted on a motorcycle, who were attempting to plant an improvised explosive device. Also in western Iraq, a Reaper fired a Hellfire missile to attack an ISIL vehicle check-point, used by the terrorists to extort tolls from passing traffic and thereby restrict free movement by the civilian population.

30 November: UK GR4s were once again in action, supporting the Kurdish peshmerga south of Sinjar. Three heavy machine-gun positions were identified, and each struck accurately by a Paveway IV. As is normal, a Voyager tanker provided air to air refuelling for the RAF Tornados, as well as being available to refuel other coalition jets. Other RAF assets making a significant contribution to the coalition air campaign include Sentinel and Air Seeker strategic surveillance aircraft, which play a key role in gathering intelligence on terrorist activity in Syria and Iraq. In addition, Hercules transport aircraft provide essential logistic support to the British forces deployed on the operation, particularly the UK military training teams inside Iraq, who are working with other coalition partners to develop the Iraqi ground forces' capability and effectiveness.

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