Afghanistan

Afghanistan: UK 'Ready' To Launch Strikes Against IS Fighters, RAF Chief Says

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said: "If there's an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to."

The head of the Royal Air Force has indicated British forces are prepared to launch air strikes against so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan.

It comes as American forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on Monday – bringing to an end the deployment which began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks two decades ago.

The Taliban has proclaimed "full independence" for Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.

ISIS-K – an affiliate group of IS, also known as Daesh, carried out the attack at Kabul airport last week that killed two Britons and the child of a British national, along with 13 US service personnel and dozens of Afghans.

RAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, indicated that the force could strike ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "Ultimately, what this boils down to is that we've got to be able to play a global role in the global coalition to defeat Daesh, whether it's strike, or whether it's moving troops or equipment into a particular country, at scale and at speed.

"If there's an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to – that will be anywhere where violent extremism raises its head and is a direct or indirect threat to the UK and our allies.

Watch: A 2018 report looking at Operation Shader.

"Afghanistan is probably one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, and we're able to operate there."

The RAF already targets IS fighters in Iraq and Syria under Operation Shader – the UK's contribution to a global coalition mission against IS.

RAF missions as part of Op Shader are launched from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. 

The last British troops left Afghanistan on Saturday after 20 years deployed to the country. 

About 1,000 UK soldiers, plus RAF aircraft, were deployed to Kabul airport to evacuate UK nationals and eligible Afghans following the Taliban takeover, airlifting more than 15,000 people to safety across just over a fortnight.

British troops board an RAF A400m at Kabul airport as UK's 20 year military mission in Afghanistan ends 280821 CREDIT MOD
Some of the final British troops in Afghanistan board an RAF A400m aircraft at Kabul airport (Picture: MOD).

Following the completion of the withdrawal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and loved ones of those who died serving in the military it was not down to "chance or good fortune" that the UK had been safe from attacks launched from Afghanistan for 20 years.

In an open letter, he said he had been "lost in admiration for the heroic efforts of everyone" involved in Operation Pitting – the codename for the evacuation efforts at Kabul airport.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the number of UK nationals left behind in Afghanistan is in the "low hundreds" and also did not rule out the RAF launching air strike against IS in Afghanistan. 

He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In extremis, we always reserve the right to exercise lawful self defence and we would, of course, never rule that out in particular in relation to dealing with terrorist groups."

He also said the global coalition against the so-called Islamic State was ready "to combat Daesh networks by all means available, wherever they operate".

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Cover image: File photo of RAF F-35B fighters deployed on Operation Shader (Picture: MOD).