UK launches air strikes against ISIS in Syria
LONDON - Just hours after gaining parliamentary approval, four British Royal Air Force Tornado jets targeted the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria, expanding Britain’s air campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Britain’s parliament voted to back the Conservative government’s plan to expand British air strikes from Iraq into neighbouring Syria after a tense debate of more than ten hours, after which 67 Labour members went against opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and voted with the government.
British Prime Minister David Cameron made an impassioned plea for expanding Britain’s fight against ISIS. He told MPs: “This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it’s about how best we do that. The question is this: 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? Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”
Senior members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, who pressured him to allow a free vote on the issue, voted in favour of the strikes. Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn publicly defied the Labour leader and called on the party’s MPs to vote with the government.
“We must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight,” Benn said.
Parliament comfortably passed the cabinet’s 12-point plan to extend British air strikes against ISIS from Iraq into Syria on a 397-223 vote after a tense and prolonged debate.
Following the vote, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Britain is safer tonight because of the decision that the House of Commons has taken.”
US President Barack Obama also supported the decision. “I welcome the vote by the United Kingdom to join coalition partners striking ISIS targets in Syria. The special relationship between the US and the UK is rooted in our shared values and mutual commitment to global peace, prosperity and security,” he said.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed that eight jets – two Tornadoes and six Typhoons – would be sent to RAF Akrotiri station in Cyprus to join planes that have been bombing ISIS targets in Iraq.
“We are doubling our strike force,” Fallon told BBC radio.
The targeting of the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria aims to degrade sources of ISIS finances, with analysts expecting similar attacks to take place over the coming weeks.
“This strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh terrorists depend,” Fallon said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, which Cameron said his government would now be using to describe the terrorist group.
“It’s a very good illustration of a target that is literally one side of the border and couldn’t previously be attacked,” he added.
British air strikes will also likely target ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, which Cameron had previously called the “head of the snake”.
“It is in Syria, in Raqqa, that ISIS has its headquarters and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated,” the prime minister had said in a previous parliamentary debate.
But some analysts question just how much Britain will add to the international campaign against ISIS in Syria. “It will not make a big operational difference. It is important symbolically, useful operationally, but not transformative,” Malcolm Chalmers of military think-tank the Royal United Services Institute told Reuters.