Britain launches its first airstrike against IS in Iraq

Published October 1st, 2014 - 02:44 GMT

This is the moment a missile from an RAF jet fell on an ISIS target in Iraq yesterday - as the Ministry of Defence today confirmed further attacks were carried out on jihadi positions overnight.

Images taken from one of the two planes' cockpits during the strike show an armed pick-up truck carrying a mounted machine gun being destroyed amid a cloud of smoke.

A heavy weapon position was also successfully targeted as the RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft carried out its first raids on Islamic State fighters since Parliament voted for strikes.

The Ministry of Defence said two RAF Tornados fired Brimstone missiles against an armed pick-up truck and transport vehicle west of Baghdad in further attacks overnight. 

Yesterday's strikes, the first on ISIS targets in Iraq , came after the Foreign Secretary insisted the UK would not be 'panicked' into action.

The Tornado warplanes flying out of Cyprus bombed the ISIS heavy weapons post and used a missile to destroy the truck, the Ministry of Defence said.

Two jets launched the attacks in support of Kurdish forces fighting the jihadist insurgent group, said officials, in the sixth RAF sortie since Parliament authorised airstrikes on Friday. 

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: 'I can confirm that the RAF were in action today in support of the Iraqi government in north west Iraq.

'Two GR4 Tornados from RAF Akrotiri were tasked to assist Kurdish troops who were under attack by Isil terrorists.

'They identified and attacked a heavy weapon position that was endangering Kurdish forces and they subsequently attacked an Isil armed pickup truck in the same area.

'Both Tornados have now returned safely to their base, and initial assessment is that both attacks were successful.'

The self-designated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known by the acronym ISIS, is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and, since declaring its 'caliphate' across a swathe of the Middle East, simply Islamic State. In Arabic, the group is known by an acronym that transliterates to 'Da'esh' or 'Dash'.

The attacks came after Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, insisted Britain would not be 'panicked' into dropping bombs in Iraq. 

 He had denied the lack of any attacks since last Thursday, when parliament gave the green light for UK participation in the international military effort, was of any particular significance.

Isis has reportedly advanced to within just one mile of the Iraqi capital Baghdad - killing hundreds of highly trained and expensively equipped soldiers loyal to the country's Shia-led government in the process. 

Speaking of the RAF's earlier lack of involvement in Western bombing raids against ISIS militants in Iraq, Mr Hammond said the air force was simply gathering intelligence to ensure civilians are not mistakenly hit. 

'They haven't yet attacked a target, because there is a process going on of surveillance, gathering intelligence data, synthesising that, establishing pattern of life,' he told the BBC's Daily Politics.

'When we do release our weapons we have to be absolutely sure that they are against Isil targets, that they are not going to kill innocent Sunni Muslim civilians in areas that are occupied by Isil,' he added, using an alternative acronym for the group, which rebranded as the Islamic State in June.

'Otherwise we are having the opposite of the effect we are intending to have,' he went on to say.

Mr Hammond's explanation comes less than a day after two civilian workers were killed during a U.S. airstrike in ISIS-held territory in Syria, when the grain silo in which they worked is believed to have been mistaken for a jihadist base. 

Britain also agreed to send only six planes to carry out anti-ISIS operations in Iraq - considerably fewer than the number of American aircraft operating in the region.

Referring to the territory ISIS is understood to have gained since Britain joined the international military effort against the terror group, Mr Hammond said he did not believe ISIS militants could realistically seize control of the Iraqi capital Baghdad anytime soon.

He said he did not think it correct to suggest that the jihadists had advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad - stressing that there was a difference between the capital itself and Baghdad province.

'Baghdad is well defended and we are confident about that. We will do this properly,' he said.

'We are not going to be panicked into just dropping bombs all over the place because somebody's reporting a movement [of ISIS forces].

'We have to make sure that we identify the enemy, we monitor their movements so we know where they are, and then we attack precisely the targets that we need to attack.'

Reports that ISIS militants are now just one mile from Baghdad came from the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East - an organisation supporting the work of Canon Andrew White, vicar of the city's St George's Church, the only Anglican church in Iraq.

In a message posted on Facebook, the group said: 'The Islamic State are now less than 2km away from entering Baghdad. They said it could never happen and now it almost has.'

'President Obama is saying he overestimated the ability of the Iraqi Army. It is so clear they have no ability. A hard thing to say but it's true,' Canon Andrew White later added.

Speaking at lunchtime today, Mr Hammond also risked infuriating the French - who have committed a greater number of fighter jets in the campaign against ISIS - by dismissing the idea that the French Air Force had anything like the same operational capabilities as the RAF. 

'If there is an air force in the world that can carry out this task while minimising the risk of civilian casualties and the risk of collateral damage, the RAF is the air force,' he said.

'There is nobody who knows anything about air power who is suggesting that the French air force is a more formidable force than the RAF.

'It is not just about how many formations you have, it is about the training of your people, it is about the capability of your equipment, it is about the structure and the organisation.'

Mr Hammond said he did not 'particularly regret' admitting during an interview earlier this month that Britain had 'no idea' where ISIS were holding foreign hostages - including British aid worker Alan Henning and photojournalist John Cantlie.

Mr Henning was last seen being threatened by the ISIS murderer known as 'Jihadi John' during the sickening filmed beheading of another British aid worker, David Haines.

Meanwhile ISIS last night released the latest installment of a video series in which Mr Cantlie is filmed being forced to read ISIS propaganda under the guise of 'educating' Westerners about the conflict.

 Speaking of his decision to publicly admit to not knowing where inside ISIS-held territory the hostages are being held, Mr Hammond said: 'I think they probably would work out that we don't know or we would have done something about it.'

However, he also appeared to suggest that the position may have altered since then - saying merely that it 'was the truth' at the time.

'I made that comment over two weeks ago and situations can change... I tend to think that the best answer to a question is the truth, and in this case that was the truth,' he said.





© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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