Iraq: IS Stronghold Cleared After 10-Day RAF Mission

The Royal Air Force supported Iraqi Security Forces during an operation against Daesh targets in northern Iraq.

The Royal Air Force has helped clear a so-called Islamic State stronghold in Iraq, during a 10-day operation.

The RAF supported Iraqi Security Forces ground operations in northern Iraq during the mission.

As Iraqi forces cleared the Makhmur Mountain region, in northern Iraq, the RAF carried out a major air offensive as part of Operation Shader.

"The British Armed Forces, alongside our Iraqi and coalition partners, continue to root out Daesh terrorists from where they hide," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

He added that the UK is "committed to defeating Daesh".

Mr Wallace said: "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."

The operation ended on 22 March, when members of the extremist group were confirmed to be in a network of caves in the Makhmur Mountains.

Using Storm Shadow missiles, three RAF Typhoons carried out an attack on the Daesh targets.

"The Royal Air Force and wider coalition have supported an operation led by a highly capable unit from the Iraqi Security Forces," the Air Officer Commander of 83 Expeditionary Air Group and the UK Air Component Commander in the Middle East said.

Air Commodore Simon Strasdin added: "Together, we are working towards defeating the remnants of Daesh and ensuring its will is depleted."

Regarding IS in Iraq and northern Syria, the RAF officer said: "Ultimately, we're able to close this out," but stated there is not "an exact timeline".

It was the first operational use of the Storm Shadow cruise missiles from Typhoon FRG4 aircraft.

What is Storm Shadow?

The last time the RAF used Storm Shadow was in 2018.

The missile is pre-programmed to hit a specific target, and, once launched, flies low at speeds of 1,000 kilometres an hour.

RAF Typhoon prepares for Op Shader sortie in Iraq DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT MOD.jpg
This operation marked the first time Storm Shadow missiles were used by RAF Typhoons on operation (Picture: MOD).

Shortly before impact, it feeds back real-time video, before a small initial warhead is used, attacking the outer walls of the target, like a bunker or cave, for example.

Once it is inside its target area, a delayed fuze can detonate a 450-kilo warhead.

In addition to using Storm Shadow missiles, as part of the 10-day operation, the RAF also used Paveway IV bombs.

Professor Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, told Forces News: "Even though the caliphate, the territorial caliphate, has been dismantled in Iraq and Syria in 2017 and 2019, the so-called Islamic State has been able to adapt.

"No-one knows exactly how many active combatants there are, but we estimate there are between 10 and 12 thousand.

"ISIS have been able to secure hideouts for its fighters in the mountains and valleys and deserts and it has carried out thousands, as opposed to hundreds, of low-cost and limited attacks in both Iraq and Syria since 2019."

Discussing the techniques used by the terror group, Prof Gerges explained how units have "embedded themselves with local communities" throughout the Middle East and reaching as far as Africa, though most prominent in Iraq.

The professor believes the group is restructuring in the wake of a "major blow" and is waiting for favourable conditions to rise once more.

In light of this, he urged the international community not to rely too heavily on air power and the use of local forces on the ground, but instead to strengthen its own ground presence further and prevent a surge in Daesh violence.

The MOD estimates that between 2019 and 2020, Operation Shader led to 67 enemies killed in action and four enemies wounded in action.

Op Shader is the UK's contribution to the Global Coalition against Daesh.

A further 81 nations are part of the Global Coalition.