UK Air strikes in Iraq

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(London Post)  British forces have continued to conduct air operations to assist the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIL. Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s and other coalition aircraft conducted a very large series of attacks on ISIL terrorist positions in northern Iraq on the evening of Tuesday 4 August.

Previously, the Kurdish peshmerga, trained and equipped by the international coalition, including by a British Army training team, and well supported from the air, have liberated significant swathes of territory in northern Iraq from ISIL control, including key towns such as Rabiyah and Zumar, and rescued the Yazidi and other Kurdish refugees who were besieged by the terrorists a year ago on Mount Sinjar. A recent offensive, which RAF and other coalition aircraft supported, succeeded in driving back the terrorists to the west of Kirkuk.

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.

Strike montage

Further south the same day, 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. On Wednesday 5 August, two GR4s 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. Thursday 6 August saw our aircraft once more providing 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.

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.

31 July:One of our aircraft helped coordinate a strike on an ISIL position by a coalition aircraft. The Reaper then spotted terrorists burying explosives under a railway line, and was able to direct a successful attack by the supporting coalition jet. The Reaper also conducted two strikes with its own Hellfire missiles, destroying two vehicles at an ISIL-held compound.

30 July: GR4s, responding to reports of a machine-gun attack on Kurdish troops, were able to identify a network of bunkers and tunnels near Tal Afar – three accurate strikes were conducted using Paveway IVs on the bunker and tunnel entrances.

28 July: A Reaper, once more supporting Iraqi forces in the western province of Anbar, spotted an ISIL armoured vehicle; it was destroyed by a direct hit from a Hellfire. The following day, Tornado GR4s patrolling in northern Iraq hit a terrorist mortar team with a Paveway.

24 July: A Reaper was again patrolling over western Iraq, providing overwatch for Iraqi troops. The aircraft’s crew spotted an anti-aircraft gun being used by ISIL to fire on the Iraqi forces, and promptly destroyed the gun with a Hellfire. A second Hellfire accounted for a machine-gun position. The Reaper also helped coordinate a series of successful air strikes by several coalition jets, which destroyed two terrorist positions as well as a pair of armoured personnel carriers, one of which appeared to have been converted into a large car-bomb.

23 July: Two Tornado GR4s from RAF Akrotiri, supported by a Voyager refuelling tanker, conducted two air strikes on Thursday, when they flew a close air support mission to assist the Kurdish peshmerga near Sinjar. The first attack was on a building from which a sniper was firing at the peshmerga; the precision of the Paveway IV guided bomb and careful planning by the RAF aircrew allowed a successful attack without danger to the friendly forces. Shortly afterwards, a second target was identified – a terrorist mortar position – this was also destroyed with a Paveway. Further south that day, a Reaper destroyed another ISIL supply vehicle with a Hellfire missile, and also provided surveillance support for a strike on a terrorist position by other coalition aircraft. In western Iraq, meanwhile, a Reaper identified a building from which an ISIL group were firing on Iraqi soldiers; this allowed a coalition jet to conduct a successful attack. The Reaper then mounted its own Hellfire attack to destroy a nearby heavy machine-gun position.

21 July: A Reaper patrolling in the west of the country observed a group of terrorists attempting to plant improvised explosive devices to hold up Iraqi advances; a hit from a Hellfire missile put an end to their activities. A second Reaper was meanwhile operating further north, and it used one of its Hellfires in a highly accurate attack that destroyed an ISIL supply truck despite it being parked under a concrete roofed vehicle bay.

A major part of the coalition’s strategic surveillance capability is provided by RAF Sentinel and Rivet Joint aircraft, while RAF Sentry airborne command platforms help ensure the effective coordination of the many different air forces contributing to the campaign against ISIL. On the ground, British military instructors continue to work with coalition partners to provide intensive training for the Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga; since the start of the coalition air campaign last autumn, the Iraqi and Kurdish troops have already succeeded in liberating some 25% of the territory initially seized by the ISIL extremists.

A major part of the coalition’s strategic surveillance capability is provided by RAF Sentinel and Rivet Joint aircraft, while RAF Sentry airborne command platforms help ensure the effective coordination of the many different air forces contributing to the campaign against ISIL.

On the ground, British military instructors continue to work with coalition partners to provide intensive training for the Iraqi security forces as they build their strength to drive the terrorists out of their country; since the start of the coalition air campaign last autumn, the Iraqi and Kurdish troops have already succeeded in liberating some 25-30% of the territory initially seized by the ISIL extremists.

The coalition’s programme to help train and equip the Iraqi security forces continues, with British military instructors making a significant contribution in assisting the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq. The UK is taking the lead in designing a country-wide programme for the coalition to provide training and equipment to help reduce the threat from the improvised explosive devices (IED) which are increasingly favoured by the terrorists as they are forced onto the defensive. The training also now includes a Protection of Civilians element to counter the sexual violence used by ISIL as a weapon.

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