UK stepping up role in Iraq
Britain was dragged deeper into the Iraq crisis last night as it emerged another 150 special forces troops are being deployed.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the mission had escalated beyond a humanitarian one and could last for months.
British forces are now helping Iraq to ‘combat’ the rise of Islamic State and its extreme form of terrorism, he said. And in his most uncompromising intervention to date, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the situation may now require ‘military action to go after the terrorists’.
He said the Islamist fanatics of IS had to be stopped before they became strong enough to launch attacks on British soil.
Mr Cameron spoke amid a series of dramatic developments on the ground that will fuel concerns about mission creep and prompt fresh demands for the recall of Parliament:
- British military planes are flying deeper into Iraq to capture surveillance footage of jihadist fighters which is being used to help Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground.
- Regular soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment were in the Kurdish region last week – despite Downing Street’s assurances there would be no ‘boots on the ground’.
- At least 1,000 Royal Marines are being deployed to Jordan in a long-planned joint military exercise with the US.
- Kurdish and US forces made a major advance against IS – and are poised to take back the strategically important Mosul Dam.
The new deployment of 150 special forces troops is likely to begin later this week. It will include signals specialists and electronics experts with equipment capable of intercepting voice transmissions at a distance of more than 150 miles.
There will also be men from a new SBS unit which will be used to monitor sensitive areas of the Jordanian border.
Earlier, Mr Cameron said Britain should use its military prowess to stop Islamists creating ‘a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean’. He said the UK was ‘in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology’.
The Prime Minister added: ‘If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.’
Until now, Britain has limited its role to aid drops, surveillance and transporting supplies to Kurdish forces. But Mr Cameron, writing in a Sunday newspaper, said: ‘True security will only be achieved if we use all our resources – aid, diplomacy, our military prowess – to help bring about a more stable world.’
He added: ‘We need a firm security response, whether that is military action to go after the terrorists, international co-operation on intelligence and counter-terrorism or uncompromising action against terrorists at home.’
While saying he did not back full-scale military involvement and ‘sending armies to fight or occupy’, Mr Cameron left open the possibility of Britain taking on a more direct role in supporting Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground.
Speaking on a visit to the RAF Akrotiri base in Cyprus, Mr Fallon said: ‘This is not simply a humanitarian mission. We and other countries in Europe are determined to do what we can to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism.’
Mr Fallon revealed that troops from 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment flew in as part of preparations for a helicopter mission to save stranded members of the Yazidi group on a mountainside. They were on the ground for 24 hours before flying back to Cyprus after the operation was called off.
Addressing airmen and soldiers at the base, Mr Fallon said: ‘This mission isn’t over. The humanitarian needs are there…There may well now be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save life, protect people. We are going to need all of you again and the surveillance you are able to give us.’
In recent weeks IS fighters have seized vast swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, advancing towards Baghdad and prompting US air strikes.
Yesterday, US warplanes helped by Kurdish forces were on the brink of recapturing the Mosul Dam, which supplies water and electricity to northern Iraq, amid ‘fierce resistance’ from Islamists. It was reported yesterday that another 300 Yazidi men from the Sinjar mountain area are among their victims, with some beheaded in front of their own families.
British military planes are filming surveillance footage on jihadist fighters which is passed to the US and used to help Kurdish and Iraqi forces. The UK has more than 100 members of the SAS, SBS, Reconnaissance Regiment and signals specialists in Baghdad and around Irbil.