RAF Tornado, 15 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, by SAC Scott Ferguson (Crown, OGL, 2009)

Operation Shader: Britain’s War in Iraq and Syria

Part of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh

Since 2014, Britain’s Armed Forces have been fighting ISIS (aka ISIL, Islamic State, or Daesh) in Iraq and Syria.

The UK is one of 68 nations in a Global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The military element of this is known as Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), or simply Operation Inherent Resolve. The British contribution is codenamed Operation Shader.

18,666 Strikes on ISIS Targets

Figures released at the end of February this year revealed that Coalition forces had conducted a total of 18,666 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Most of them (11,245) had been against ISIS targets in Iraq, with a still sizeable proportion (7,421) being conducted in Syria. The US was leading the fight in Syria, conducting 95% of all airstrikes; the US accounted for 68% of airstrikes in Iraq.

RAF At Highest Operational Intensity

The RAF is currently at its highest operational intensity in 25 years. The first airstrikes hit ISIS in Iraq on 30 September 2014, with the surveillance operation over Syria turning into a combat role on 3 December 2014.

Flying out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as the main operating base in the region, the RAF has sent 8 GR4 Tornados and 6 Typhoons on repeated sorties over ISIS-held territory. Reaper drones have added to the deadly arsenal, with Airseeker and Sentinel providing surveillance and E3-D sentry support. Voyager has kept the fighter jets flying with air-to-air refuelling and two C130 transporters have been bringing in supplies.

The important role being played by Tornados led to delaying the disbanding of one of the UK’s three currently available Tornado squadrons. The Tornado can carry Brimstone missiles (both Dual Mode Seeker and Legacy), Paveway (II, enhanced II, III and IV), Stormshadow and ASRAAM missiles.

RAF Typhoons can also be armed with Enhanced Paveway II, Paveway IV, ASRAAM and AMRAAM missiles. In future the Typhoons will also be able to carry Brimstone, Stormshadow and Meteor missiles.

The UK is second largest contributor to the air campaign. The RAF have flown more than 3,000 missions and launched over 1,200 airstrikes across Iraq and Syria.

Other nations flying combat missions in Iraq and Syria are France (Operation Chammal), Australia (Operation Okra), Jordan and Belgium, with a sporadic contribution from Denmark. Turkey has also been conducting strikes solely against ISIS targets in Syria.

British Army Back in Iraq

The British Army has been in Iraq since October 2014 in a non-combat role, training Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The British Army is also leading the Coalition’s counter-IED training programme.

At the end of June 2016, the MOD announced a further 50 personnel would deploy to Al Asad airbase in western Iraq to give training in counter-IED methods, infantry tactics and medical care. At present, the total size of the British Army in Iraq amounts to 500 personnel.

It is estimated that the British Army has already trained almost 40,000 Iraqi troops, including 7,300 Peshmerga, in bases at Besmaya, Taji and al-Asad. Many of those soldiers are now seeing action in the battle to liberate Mosul.

The US requested additional help for its train and equip programme in Syria, and from 25 October 2016 the British Army was detailed to resume training of vetted Syrian opposition groups. A total of 20 Army personnel have delpoyed to locations outside of Syria to provide this training.

To date, the British Army has deployed to Iraq elements of 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (2 YORKS); 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2 PWRR); 1st Battalion, The Rifles (1 RIFLES) (July 2015 – January 2017); 4th Battalion, The Rifles (4 RIFLES); and 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS). The 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (The Highlanders) (4 SCOTS), replaced 1 RIFLES at al-Asad airbase, Anbar Province, in January 2017 for a six-month tour. Currently being deployed is the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS).

The Royal Navy Joins the Fray

The Royal Navy first ship to be deployed was HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, in October 2014. In August 2016, it was announced that HMS Daring, another Type 45 destroyer, would deploy to the Gulf to give air defence support to the US Carrier Groups there. HMS Defender returned to base.

HMS Ocean was deployed in September 2016 as part of the UK’s Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) Task Force on operations until March 2017.

In total, approx. 1350 Armed Forces personnel are deployed in Operation Shader, with elements in Cyprus, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

Machine Guns for the Peshmerga

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has provided significant resources to the Kurdish Peshmerga: over 50 tonnes of non-lethal supplies; 40 heavy machine guns; almost 500,000 rounds of ammunition; and other military equipment to the value of £600,000.

The Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Military equipment and supplies have not been given to Iraqi People’s Mobilisation Units, some of which are allied to extremist Islamic groups.

The Price of War

In answer to a Parliamentary Question in February 2017, the MOD said that the operational costs of the counter-ISIS mission up to the end of March 2016 had been a total of £238.8 million. For 2014-2015 this was only £21.9 million, jumping to £216.9 million for 2015-16.

The MOD’s Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP) costs for “the provision of key enablers” were £47.2 million: £23.5 million in 2014-15  and £23.7 million for 2015-16. However, not all of those costs were directly attributable to the counter-ISIS campaign.

Up to October 2016, approximately £63 million of the overall amount had been spent on Brimstone and Hellfire missiles.

Legal Status of the War

Military action in Iraq is being carried out at the request of the Iraqi government, which coalition partners consider provides a firm legal basis for operations. Military operations in Syria are not at the request of the Assad government, and are being conducted in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution specifically authorising such action. However, coalition nations have expressed the view that such operations are legally justified on the basis of the collective self-defence of Iraq, and the individual self-defence of participating nations.

Daesh Losing the Battle

According to the British Army, Daesh now holds only 10% of Iraqi territory, and has lost 50% of the territory it once occupied in Iraq and only 20% in Syria. In Iraq, UK and Coalition support for local forces has liberated Ramadi, Rutbah, Hit, Fallujah and Qayyarah. Further north, operations for the clearance of Mosul is underway. According to the office of Migration, more than 887,000 refugees have returned to their homes.

The flow of foreign fighters has fallen by up to 90% and desertions are increasing. The UK has supported successful efforts to improve international coordination, through the UN and other bodies. At least 50 countries and the UN now pass fighter profiles to Interpol – a 400% increase over two years.

Sources: ISIS/Daesh: the military response in Iraq and Syria – Commons Library briefing – UK Parliament; British Army website; Ready to Rumble with ISIS.

UK Contribution to the Fight Against Daesh

Map of UK forces committed to Operation Shader
Map of UK forces committed to Operation Shader

Featured Image: RAF Tornado, 15 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, by SAC Scott Ferguson (Crown, OGL, 2009).

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