LONDON: Missiles and bombs were used to clear a stronghold of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group in northern Iraq as part of a joint operation with ground forces in the region, the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) said on Thursday.
In an operation lasting 10 days during March, the Iraqi Security Forces ground troops cleared ISIS terrorists from the Makhmur Mountain region, south-west from Erbil, while RAF and other Global Coalition aircraft carried out a major air offensive in support.
The operation began when ISIS extremists were confirmed to be based in a network of caves in the Makhmur mountains and concluded on March 22.
“The British Armed Forces, alongside our Iraqi and coalition partners, continue to root out Daesh [ISIS] terrorists from where they hide,” said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
“The UK is committed to defeating Daesh. This operation will prevent the terrorist group and its toxic ideology from regaining a foothold in Iraq and reduce its capability to coordinate attacks around the world,” he said.
Since the caves were assessed to be a particularly challenging target, three Typhoon FGR4s were tasked to conduct an attack using Storm Shadow missiles, the remote area having first been checked to ensure that no civilians would be placed at risk. The strike on the ISIS targets was assessed by subsequent surveillance to have been a success, the RAF said.
Throughout the 10-day operation, the RAF used 42 Paveway IV bombs and 10 Storm Shadow cruise missiles have been used during the multiple strikes throughout the operation. According to the UK armed forces, the operation builds on the success of recent years and represents a significant increase in activity from previous months. This was the first operational use of the Storm Shadow cruise missile from a Typhoon FGR4 aircraft.
“The Royal Air Force and wider coalition have supported an operation led by a highly capable unit from the Iraqi Security Forces. Together, we are working towards defeating the remnants of Daesh and ensuring its will is depleted,” said Air Commodore Simon Strasdin, the Air Officer Commander of 83 Expeditionary Air Group and the UK Air Component Commander in the Middle East.
“The commitment and dedication from the personnel deployed on operations across the Middle East is simply outstanding. It is even more impressive that the Royal Air Force can adapt and continue to deliver air power against the enemy during a global pandemic,” he said.
An unnamed Typhoon FGR4 pilot who was involved in the operation said: “I feel incredibly proud to have been able to support the recent coalition operation in the Makhmur Mountains. We were removing Daesh from the region and denying them a critical safe haven from which to continue their operations in Iraq and Syria.
“As part of this operation, the Squadron took part in two combined missions involving coalition assets. It is always very professionally satisfying to work alongside our allies to achieve the task.”
In a separate operation carried on Sunday, an RAF Reaper, armed with Hellfire missiles, identified a small group of ISIS terrorists in northern Syria, some fifty miles west of Al Hasakah. Having checked that there were no civilians nearby, the Reaper’s crew attacked the terrorists, striking the target successfully, the RAF said.
In reference to the ongoing Operation Shader in the region, the RAF described it as "essential" to dismantling ISIS networks and reducing the terrorist group’s global ambitions. Though ISIS has been territorially defeated, it is estimated there are approximately 10,000 terrorists still at large across Syria and Iraq.
The UK said, together with 82 partner nations of the Global Coalition, it remains committed to working with Iraq to not only degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS but to also enhance its security.
In addition to air strikes, the RAF is also carrying out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Air to Air Refuelling and Air Transport sorties using Reaper, Voyager, C130 and A400Ms aircraft.