Islamic State

RAF Hitting IS Targets In The Mountains Of Iraq

Air Commodore Justin Reuter said the RAF is playing a key role in hunting the remnants of Islamic State as they hide in Iraq.

The officer leading the UK's air campaign against the so-called Islamic State (IS) has told Forces News the mission to defeat the terrorist group has now moved back inside Iraq.

IS once controlled an area of the size of Britain but its self-proclaimed caliphate was brought to an end earlier this year as it lost its final piece of territory in a Syrian village close to the Iraq border. 

As a result, hundreds of IS fighters were killed but some survived and crossed over to Iraq.

In an exclusive interview, Air Commodore Justin Reuter confirmed Iraq is again the focus of the UK and other coalition nations targeting IS, otherwise known as Daesh.

He said: "The last few targets we've struck have all been in Iraq, they've all been in support of Iraqi security forces, clearing Daesh areas, areas where they have insurgents."

Air Commodore Reuter said the UK has been assisting Iraqi security forces on the ground from the air as they attempt to rid IS from caves and mountains where they have launched hit and run attacks. 

But he said allied airstrikes have also brought devastating results. 

"We did a UK, US and a French mission," he said.

"There were 19 particular targets that we struck, we struck them all nearly simultaneously using three different nationalities, multiple formations of aircraft.

"Being able to strike them all at once, at the same time as there was an information campaign from Iraqi security services, we were able to clear a particular area."

Figures from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows only one civilian has been killed by RAF airstrikes as part of the mission against IS.

However, those figures were greeted with some scepticism, as one critic labelled it a "world record in modern conflict".

In contrast, the US said at least 1,257 civilians had died as a result of 33,921 US-led coalition airstrikes between August 2014 and January 2019, while the Royal Australian Air Force has previously said it was "possible" 18 civilians were unintentionally killed.

Air Commodore Reuter defended the RAF's record but said "mistakes will happen in conflict" and for IS to be defeated, airstrikes must happen. 

Operation Shader, the UK's contribution to the fight on IS, will mark its fifth anniversary this summer and has reportedly cost £2 billion. 

While the campaign in Iraq has "not been as kinetic", Air Commodore Reuter believes it will continue even if a "decision point is coming" over the mission's next step.

More than 1,300 UK personnel are deployed to the region in support of Operation Shader, including RAF aircrew and engineers, British troops training Iraqi forces and UK Special Forces.