British warplanes carried out airstrike on Isis in Syria

December 3, 2015 1:20 pm


Cameron has long wanted to target IS in , but had been unsure of
getting majority support in the House of Commons until now. Photo / AP

British warplanes carried out airstrikes in Syria early 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
spokesman told the AP the planes had conducted strikes in Syria, and
details about their targets would be provided later Thursday.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name when discussing operations.

The RAF has been launching strikes against IS targets in Iraq
since 2014. The decision to expand the campaign to Syria came after an
emotional 10 1/2-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.
has long wanted to target IS 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 Nov. 13 Paris attacks, claimed by IS, 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.
He said Britain was already a top target for IS
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 IS 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.
foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn said Britain could not “walk by
on the other side of the road” when international allies were asking for
help against IS “fascists.”
Britain already conducts airstrikes
against IS targets in Iraq, and in August launched a drone strike that
killed two British IS 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.
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 IS. 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.”
von Hippel, who was chief of staff to US Gen. 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.
“The Brits have expertise and capabilities,” she said. Their involvement “brings moral authority and legitimacy to the fight.”
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 defences and other action.
German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to
support the anti-IS coalition in Syria, though not in a combat role.
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.
On Wednesday, Russia’s deputy defence
minister, Anatoly Antonov, accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip
Erdogan and his family of benefiting from illegal oil trade with Islamic
State militants.
Erdogan called the claim “slander” and said Turkey would not “buy oil from a terror organization.”
Russia and the United States also disagree about tactics in Syria, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington saying he must go.
Kerry, speaking after NATO meetings in Brussels, said that if Russia’s
focus on fighting IS was “genuine,” it could have a constructive role in
bringing peace. He didn’t say whether the US might be willing to bring
Russia into its military effort against the group, as some members such
as France have proposed.
The top NATO commander in , US Air
Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, said the bulk of Russia’s air operations
in Syria are still directed against moderate anti-Assad opposition
forces, not Islamic State positions.
US officials had hoped
Russia would change its bombing focus after the Oct. 31 attack on a
Russian airliner over Egypt, which killed 224 people.
that the “vast majority” of Russian sorties targeted moderate groups,
Breedlove said coalition forces were “not working with or cooperating
with Russia in Syria” but had devised safety routines to make it easier
for both groups.
The British debate was sometimes bad-tempered as
opposition lawmakers demanded Cameron apologize for remarks, reportedly
made at a closed-door meeting, in which he branded opponents a “bunch
of terrorist sympathizers.”
Cameron did not retract the comments
but said “there’s honor in voting for, there’s honor in voting against”
the motion to back airstrikes.
From the passionate speeches in
the House to the anti-war protesters outside Parliament, the debate
recalled Britain’s divisive 2003 decision to join the US-led invasion of
Iraq on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein’s
alleged weapons of mass destruction. Many lawmakers came to regret
supporting the war and ensuing chaos, and blamed then-Labour Prime
Minister Tony Blair for lacking a plan for post-war reconstruction.
leader Corbyn said that “to oppose another reckless and half-baked
intervention isn’t pacifism. It’s hard-headed common sense.”
Shabana Mahmood — one of the few Muslim lawmakers in Parliament —
called IS “Nazi-esque totalitarians who are outlaws from Islam,” but
said she opposed the strikes because “we cannot simply bomb the ground,
we have to have a strategy to hold it as well.”
But Cameron said doing nothing was a worse option.
“The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of what I propose,” he said.

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