RAF warplanes are on stand-by to launch Britain’s first air strikes against Islamic State (IS) jihadists after Parliament gave the green light for military action.
Tornado GR4 fighter bombers stationed in Cyprus are expected to spearhead the assault on IS targets in northern Iraq.
It comes as David Cameron has called the fight against IS and other extremism in general a “generational struggle”.
He told the Sun: “Wherever there are broken states and instability, this poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism causes problems for those countries and for us back home.
“This is a very long term, generational struggle that we are involved in.
Mr Cameron also suggested the campaign to defeat IS could take longer than three years.
“Hopefully we will be able to achieve success faster than that. But you know, it might take longer. It will take time,” he told the paper.
Six jets have been based at RAF Akrotiri on the island since last month but have so far been restricted to reconnaissance flights.
The timing of their first bombing raids against IS – also referred to as Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) – will depend upon when suitable targets for attack can be identified.
The United States has been carrying out air strikes in northern Iraq since mid-August – and supported by the French since last week – and most of the obvious targets have already been hit.
“You should not expect immediate shock and awe – a wave of fighters or bombers taking off. It isn’t that kind of campaign,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told BBC News last night. “You will not see an immediate series of particular threats.”
The RAF also has a Rivet Joint spy plane in the region and surveillance efforts will be stepped up in the coming days, while intelligence will also be sought from Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground.
“There are moving targets obviously – convoys of Isil fighters whom we can identify with the surveillance that we are going to intensify,” Mr Fallon said.
Yesterday, at the end of of a six-and-half hour Commons debate, MPs voted by 524 to 43 – a majority of 481 – to endorse attacks on the militants in Iraq in support of the United States-led coalition, with Labour backing the Government’s motion.
But despite the overwhelming majority in favour of military action, there were concerns on all sides of the House that – 11 years after the invasion of Iraq – Britain was again embarking on military action in the Middle East.
At the same time, there was criticism from both Conservative and Labour MPs that UK air strikes were being restricted to Iraq and that IS targets in Syria – the movement’s birthplace – were excluded.
Mr Cameron said the motion had been limited to Iraq in order to secure cross-party consensus and avoid a repeat of last year’s damaging Commons defeat when Labour combined with Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels to block air strikes against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
But Mr Fallon later indicated that the Government may well eventually have to come back to the House again to seek support for extending military action into Syria – where the US and Arab allies have already carried out air strikes.
“Isil can only be defeated in both Iraq and Syria. Isil is headquartered in Syria, that is where its command and control is, that is where its resources are and a lot of its people are,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.