Overall, the US-led coalition has had some considerable successes in containing and rolling back Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; however, much more should have been achieved given the combined military might and other resources of the 66 members of the global coalition to counter Islamic State. Those gains that have been made have come at the expense of civilian casualties. Furthermore, there are no signs that the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom from Islamic State is reducing despite nearly two years of UK airstrikes and other efforts to target the group.
This briefing provides an update on recent developments in the conflict against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It also includes an overview of UK air, ground and sea forces in the region and an analysis of Ministry of Defence data on airstrikes. It concludes that the deliberate opacity surrounding UK special forces deployments allows the British government to authorise ground operations while at the same time claiming that there are no UK combat troops involved in the conflict, thereby sidestepping public and parliamentary debate.
This briefing provides an update on recent developments in the conflict against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It includes the MoD response to an Open Briefing Freedom of Information request and an overview of UK military actions in the two countries, including ground operations - an often overlooked element of the UK campaign. It also discusses the substantial cache of IS documents recently handed to Sky News.
UK forces continue to be very active in Iraq, but have also increased offensive operations in Syria. However, the majority of UK airstrikes continue to be opportunist rather than intelligence-led, with targets being both identified and attacked by combat air patrols. The first major UK combat injuries have been reported, raising questions over the true nature and extent of UK ground operations against Islamic State.
On 2 December, the UK parliament voted in favour of authorising airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria. The RAF has since targeted well heads within the Omar oil field in Syria and undertaken multiple missions around Raqqa. A key issue in the build-up to the vote was the risk posed to innocent civilians in the areas of Iraq and Syria targeted by the RAF. Claims by the government and Ministry of Defence that there is no evidence of civilian casualties from UK military action against Islamic State do not stand up to scrutiny.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, MPs will shortly vote on whether to extend British military action against Islamic State from Iraq to Syria. After the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, announced he would allow Labour MPs a free vote on military action against Islamic State in Syria, the prime minister, David Cameron, will be confident in winning the vote, and it is likely air strikes will begin soon. However, there are serious concerns over the UK military strategy, which appears to be considered simply the ‘least worst’ option.