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UK launches airstrikes on ISIS in Syria

03 December 2015, 07:35

Akrotiri — British warplanes carried out airstrikes in Syria early on Thursday, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against Islamic State group targets there.

Four Royal Air Force Tornados took off from a British air base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, shortly after the 397-223 vote by lawmakers in the House of Commons.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told the AP the planes had conducted strikes in Syria, and details about their targets would be provided later on Thursday,

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to give his name when discussing operations.

Also Read: ISIS tightens Libya grip as world focuses on Iraq, Syria

The RAF has been launching strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq since 2014. The decision to expand the campaign to Syria came after an emotional ten-and-a-half hour debate in which Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must strike the militants in their heartland and not "sit back and wait for them to attack us."

Opponents argued that Britain's entry into Syria's crowded airspace would make little difference, and said Cameron's military plan was based on wishful thinking that overlooked the messy reality of the Syrian civil war.

Cameron has long wanted to target ISIS in Syria, but had been unsure of getting majority support in the House of Commons until now. He suffered an embarrassing defeat in 2013 when lawmakers rejected a motion backing attacks on the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The mood has changed following the November 13 Paris attacks, claimed by ISIS, that killed 130 people. Both France and the US have urged Britain to join their air campaign in Syria, and Cameron said Britain should not let its allies down.

‘Do we work with our allies?’

He said Britain was already a top target for ISIS attacks, and airstrikes would reduce the group's ability to plan more Paris-style carnage.

"Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people?" he said. "Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"

He said that attacking ISIS was not anti-Muslim but "a defence of Islam" against "women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters."

Cameron was backed by most members of his governing Conservative Party — which holds 330 of the 650 Commons seats — as well as members of the smaller Liberal Democrat party and others.

Labour, the main opposition, was divided. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — who represents the left wing of the party — spoke against what he called a "reckless and half-baked intervention." But more than 60 Labour lawmakers, including senior party figures, voted in support of airstrikes, a move likely to make fissures between the right and the left of the party even worse.

Labour foreign affairs spokesperson Hilary Benn said Britain could not "walk by on the other side of the road" when international allies were asking for help against ISIS "fascists."

Britain already conducts airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, and in August launched a drone strike that killed two British ISIS militants in Syria.

British officials say Royal Air Force Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, armed with Brimstone missiles capable of hitting moving targets, would bring the campaign highly accurate firepower and help minimize civilian casualties.

Obama welcomes UK decision

President Barack Obama welcomed the British vote to join the air campaign in Syria, saying the Islamic State group "is a global threat that must be defeated by a global response."

Critics claim British airstrikes will make little practical difference, and that ground forces will be needed to root out ISIS. Britain has ruled out sending troops, and critics of the government have responded with skepticism to Cameron's claim that there are 70 000 moderate Syrian rebels on the ground.

Cameron stood by that claim Wednesday, though he conceded, "I'm not saying that the 70 000 are our ideal partners."

Karin von Hippel, who was chief of staff to US General John Allen when he was the United States' anti-ISIS envoy, said force alone would not defeat the militants — but neither would diplomacy by itself.

Also Read:  Kenya jails British terror suspect for forgery

"The Brits have expertise and capabilities," she said. Their involvement "brings moral authority and legitimacy to the fight."

The British vote came as US Secretary of State John Kerry said Nato members were ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State group — and held out hope of improved cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria's four-year civil war.

A day after US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the United States would deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against the militants, Kerry said other countries could provide assistance that did not involve combat. He said the effort to expand operations would require more medical facilities, intelligence-gathering, military support structure, refueling operations, aerial defenses and other action.

The German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1 200 soldiers to support the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria, though not in a combat role.

Despite talk of increased international cooperation, tension has soared between Russia and Turkey after the shooting down of a Russian military jet by Turkish forces last week.

- AP


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