UK & World News

  • 11 August 2014, 18:51

British May Use RAF Tornados In Iraq Mission

The British government will deploy RAF Tornado fast jets in northern Iraq which could play a role in the humanitarian mission, Downing Street has confirmed.

In a statement, Number 10 said "a small number" of Tornado jets will be sent to the region and can be used, if required, to improve the UK's surveillance capability.

The UK will also look at how it can get equipment to Kurdish forces, the statement added.

The fighter jets would be based in Cyprus at RAF Akrotiri, alongside the C-130 Hercules cargo planes that arrived over the weekend to carry out aid drops.

The Tornados are equipped with Raptor pods, giving them the ability to conduct long and short range surveillance and infra-red photography.

It is thought they will deploy from RAF Marham in Norfolk.

While this move might be regarded as a first footing for British forces into the combat campaign being carried out by US forces, it is being stressed the planes are only a part of the humanitarian relief operation.

On Sunday night, an RAF C-130 had to abort a mission to deliver aid in the Punjar Mountains because too many refugees crowded the dropzone.

There was too great a risk of hitting and injuring or even killing people.

Sky News understands the British Government is keen to avoid a repeat situation and the Tornados could provide second-by-second imagery before, during and after any future operations.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired an emergency meeting to discuss the Iraq crisis on Monday morning.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: "We are providing humanitarian assistance. This is not simple - getting it in is very challenging, getting people off that mountain is even more challenging.

"The meeting we had this morning in Cobra looked at all the options available to us to step up our humanitarian support, including obtaining better situational awareness of what's going on on the mountain, both to facilitate the air drops and to start planning how we are going to get people out."

The UK has been airdropping aid including tents, food and water in northern Iraq to help tens of thousands of displaced people across the region.

Although the US military has many air assets, including unmanned surveillance drones, they are largely focused in the targeting of militant fighters from the Islamic State - also known as ISIS or ISIL - rather than aid delivery.

The Tornados could carry out the missions between 10,000ft and 15,000ft, well out of range of Islamic State fighters.

However, they would probably fly armed as a precautionary measure, and in pairs.

It comes as David Cameron has been urged to recall Parliament from its summer recess to address the growing crisis in Iraq.

A Downing Street source told Sky News there were no plans to recall MPs and the focus was entirely on humanitarian support. In recent times, a recall has only been used when military options were on the table.

The source said: "The key priority is getting support to people in desperate need."

Mr Cameron, who is on a family summer holiday in Portugal, was "in constant contact with senior ministers and officials", the source added.

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