The House may welcome an update on the military campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
ISIL presents a direct threat to the UK and to UK interests and the Government have been playing a key role in the global counter-ISIL coalition since its formation last year. The military effort is only one element of the wider coalition campaign to halt, degrade and defeat ISIL and its violent ideology through political, diplomatic and military means. In military terms, we have always recognised that the campaign would be a long one. While ISIL has recently had some tactical successes in Iraq and Syria, it has also lost significant ground, most recently in northern Syria. Its progress has been broadly halted and it is beginning to be rolled back. In Iraq, it has lost some 25% of the territory it held after its advance last summer.
The coalition air campaign has been vital in providing support to those fighting ISIL on the ground and in degrading ISIL’s military capabilities. As part of that campaign, RAF Tornado and Reaper aircraft have now flown over 1,000 missions and UK Tornado, Reaper, Airseeker and Sentinel aircraft have contributed sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the coalition to find and strike ISIL. The UK is currently, the only coalition nation conducting manned ISR over Syria and, with the increasing requirement for intelligence understanding across a broad geographic region in Iraq and Syria, we have also taken steps to increase the efficiency of the coalition ISR effort through collaborative force management and sharing arrangements with the US for Reaper and Airseeker. As US systems, these two types are particularly suitable for such co-operation.
Since the outset of the air campaign, we have provided to Parliament a range of information on UK air activity, including on the number of strikes carried out by our aircraft based on UK methodology. As the campaign has progressed, we have had better visibility and understanding of the method used by the coalition to calculate total strike numbers which differs from the method used by the UK. I have concluded that it would be preferable in future to use coalition produced numbers for UK strikes. For transparency, the table below shows the number of strikes carried out to date by both methods. This will result in an apparent reduction in the total number of UK strikes but does not represent a material change in the substantial contribution that the UK has, and continues to make to the counter-ISIL global coalition air campaign. This includes some 30% of the total airborne intelligence effort, reflecting the crucial importance to the coalition of the UK contribution in this field.
The wider coalition military strategy also relies on working with local land forces to build their capability and capacity to help them combat ISIL more effectively on the ground. The coalition has been training Iraqi security forces at four and now five locations. This is a long term effort but, as part of this work, the UK has now trained over 1,600 personnel. The decision to expand our presence in Iraq by a further 125 UK personnel—which will bring total UK forces in Iraq to over 275—will enable us to bring this training to further coalition training sites across Iraq, and will particularly help the Iraqi security forces to combat improvised explosive devices which form the most pernicious threat they face as they combat ISIL. The UK is also participating in a programme with US and regional partners to train the new Syrian forces in regional training centres outside Syria. This nascent programme will take time to bear fruit but demonstrates our willingness to give direct support to members of the armed moderate opposition who show themselves capable and committed to fighting ISIL.
Op Shader: UK Strike Numbers
Monthly Strikes—UK Method
Cumulative Total—UK Method
Monthly Strikes— Coalition Method
Cumulative Total—Coalition Method