UK & World News
Iraq: 'Secret' Surveillance Flights Revealed
The UK has been secretly flying its most advanced surveillance aircraft over northern Iraq during the humanitarian crisis there, the Defence Secretary has revealed.
The Rivet Joint intelligence gathering aircraft has been deployed to boost a team of Tornado jets gathering intelligence as Kurdish forces battle against Islamist militants in the region.
Information picked up by British forces is being fed back to the Iraqi government, Kurdish fighters and US forces in the region as they try to stem the tide of the Islamic State (IS) advance.
Revealing the move at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "We will continue the humanitarian mission here and we will continue to make sure we will do everything we can to assist with the refugee problem which is wider than the Sinjar mountains."
He added: "I can confirm today we have deployed Rivet Joint, our very latest surveillance aircraft, the successor to Nimrod, to give us a much better picture, more intelligence and analysis of what is happening on the ground which will help the Iraqi government, the Kurdish forces and the Americans."
The Rivet Joint aircraft has carried out a number of flights over the past few weeks, helping to pinpoint the locations of displaced people and IS fighters.
It provides real-time intelligence by intercepting electromagnetic signals, which can be combined with images gathered by Tornado jets to provide a fuller picture of the situation on the ground.
Mr Fallon was visiting the Cyprus base for the RAF's Iraq aid drop operation.
He spent time with the teams packing and dispatching the aid bundles and told the Army and RAF personnel involved: "This mission isn't over yet."
Sky News Correspondent Tom Parmenter, at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus said the Rivet Joint aircraft was like a "listening post in the sky".
He said: "It's an aircraft that goes up packed full of kit and analysis equipment to make sure the intelligence is as strong as it can be in terms of what they are gathering and how they are analysing it in this region and then feeding it back to the decision makers in Washington and London."
RAF Tornado jets have been flying missions over vast areas in northern Iraq, aided by larger Voyager planes that help them refuel at 300mph.
Britain has also been delivering aid to help families fleeing the militants - the latest supplies of vital cooking equipment, needed by people forced to leave their homes suddenly.
Two Airbus flights landed in Irbil on Saturday morning with nearly 8,000 sets of cutlery, cooking pots, plates, frying pans, cups and wooden spoons.
The supplies will mean almost 40,000 people, who currently have to queue at makeshift canteens, will be able to cook for themselves and feed their families, the Department for International Development said.
There are approximately half a million displaced people in northern Iraq's Dahuk region - many of them arriving at refugee camps after travelling for days without food and water in temperatures of up to 50C.