Our armed forces continue to provide support to the Iraqi Government in tackling the threat posed by Daesh. The RAF has flown more than 8,700 sorties and released more than 4,300 precision weapons to target Daesh in Iraq and Syria. On the ground, we have trained in excess of 120,000 Iraqi and Kurdish personnel in everything from engineering to countering improvised explosive devices. We remain wholly committed to the coalition and supporting our ally Iraq in countering Daesh.
Yeovil and the south-west are proud of the contribution we make to supplying our service personnel with the best possible equipment on their forward operations in risky environments, such as the fight against Daesh. We are also proud of the apprenticeships and skills that are sponsored through such industrial connections—for example, the 500 apprentices that Leonardo helicopters has recruited over the last decade. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this partnership will be at the forefront of his mind when making the choice of the next new medium helicopter?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of rotary aviation in support of operations around the world. He knows from our exchange in the debate last week that I am not able to comment directly on the point that he makes, but I hope he knows that we always want to provide our armed forces with the very best equipment.
British and American F-35s recently conducted operations from the UK’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of Operation Shader to degrade the capabilities of Daesh. Will my hon. Friend, as much as he is able, update the House on the nature of those operations and their strategic importance?
In June 2021, UK F-35B aircraft carried out their first operational sorties in support of the counter-Daesh operations from HMS Queen Elizabeth in the eastern Mediterranean, providing a valuable contribution to Op Shader and the coalition effort. This activity has formed a key part of improving the UK’s carrier strike capability to operate closely with allies and our interoperability with the US and others. We are delighted with how those sorties have gone. The F-35B is a phenomenal aircraft launched from a magnificent aircraft carrier.
What conclusions have our Ministers and strategists drawn from our use of military force from outside the borders of states such as Syria and Iraq that might help to prevent the re-emergence of Afghanistan as a base and a launchpad for international terrorism campaigns like those of Daesh and al-Qaeda following the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan?
My right hon. Friend knows from our previous exchanges on this matter that we have absolutely reserved the right to counter terrorist threats to the United Kingdom that may re-emerge in Afghanistan. He is absolutely right to point us towards an outside-in model such as that prosecuted from Cyprus in support of Operation Shader. That is very much in the thoughts of those who are planning for that eventuality in Afghanistan.