The Defence Secretary says he stands by controversial comments he made recently about eliminating terrorists who’ve fought in Iraq and Syria.

Gavin Williamson spoke exclusively to Forces News in Cyprus as he returned from a tour of the Middle East. 

Before arriving in Cyprus Mr Williamson visited Baghdad where he met the country’s defence minister and signed an agreement on military cooperation.

Gavin Williamson, who was visiting Iraq for the first time, said eliminating the threat from IS is "critical" to UK security with the RAF having carried out more than a thousand strikes against extremists across the region.

Visiting Kuwait, Cyprus and Iraq this week, he praised ongoing efforts by British service personnel and their role in the 74-member global coalition campaign to eradicate the group.

"The dangers we face are changing and are intensifying rapidly. Eliminating the threat from terrorism is critical to our security at home and abroad," Mr Williamson said.

"Our brave Armed Forces are working tirelessly, day and night, to defeat Daesh after helping to recover significant territory in Iraq.

"Only by defeating this evil and barbaric group for goodwill we reduce the deadly threat they pose to us, which is why we won't stop until their global network is destroyed."

 

The Syrian city of Raqqa was recaptured in October and in early December Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi formally announced that IS terrorists had been driven out of his country following three years of fierce fighting.

In Iraq, Mr Williamson met with UK personnel stationed in Taji, a coalition base north of the capital, Baghdad, and where Prime Minister Theresa May visited in November.

Meeting his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad, Mr Williamson also visited the Iraqi National Security Agency, where he reiterated the UK's commitment to the long-term security and stability of Iraq.

Signing a statement of intent for a £10 million investment in Iraq's counter-terrorism capacities, Mr Williamson said at a press conference that the fight against IS has entered a "new phase".

He said the British government is determined to "win the war online, preventing (IS) viral propaganda from recruiting yet more fanatical fighters".

Defence Secretary Makes First Visit To Iraq

As part of the UK's role in the global coalition's efforts, more than 600 British soldiers are currently deployed in locations across Iraq.

They have trained more than 60,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces in how to detect and disarm improvised explosive devices, medical techniques and infantry skills.

In Kuwait Mr Williamson met with the commanding general of the US-led coalition, Lieutenant General Paul Frank and Major General Felix Gedney, a deputy coalition commander and the UK's most senior officer in the military campaign.

Discussing the coalition's success so far, they reflected on how IS has not yet been defeated, as pockets of fighters still remain and will continue to pose a threat at home and abroad, the Ministry of Defence said.

Last month Maj Gen Gedney said they are witnessing IS militants heading westwards in Syria as they are squeezed out and their grasp on the country is diminished.

Defence Secretary Makes First Visit To Iraq

He warned they seemed to be "moving with impunity", showing, he said, that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is "clearly either unwilling or unable" to defeat the group within their borders.

Over the past three years RAF Typhoon and Tornado jets and Reaper drones have carried out more than 1,700 strikes in Iraq and Syria, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance, and refuelling missions.

The Ministry of Defence said RAF aircraft flew on operations against the terrorists every day across the Christmas period, striking compounds, lorries, mortars and pockets of fighters engaged in close quarter, street fighting with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In Cyprus Mr Williamson met with RAF crews who are flying the fast jets and remotely piloted Reaper drones out of the UK's base in Akrotiri to help clear the last remaining pockets of IS in eastern Syria.

Defence Secretary Makes First Visit To Iraq

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