The UK continues to demonstrate its world-leading air capability in the campaign against Daesh’s last major territory, Hajin, with 10 successful air strikes in 19 days over the Christmas period.
A combination of Typhoon and Tornado jets, as well as Reaper drones, supported Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground, as Daesh continue to be pushed underground.
British aircraft have also been lending assistance to the Iraqi security forces, to prevent the terrorists from regaining a foothold within the country.
• Wednesday 19 December – Tornados destroyed a truck-bomb concealed inside a building south-east of Hajin in Syria.
• Friday 21 December – a Reaper engaged a group of Daesh extremists south-east of Hajin, whilst Tornados struck two workshops making IEDs.
• Saturday 22 December – a Reaper hit a terrorist heavy weapon and its crew to the south-east of Hajin, and Tornados bombed three Daesh strong-points including a heavy machine-gun position.
• Monday 24 December – Tornados attacked two Daesh-held buildings south-east of Hajin.
• Wednesday 26 December – Typhoons and Tornados struck five terrorist-held buildings and cratered a road south-east of Hajin to prevent Daesh moving along it.
• Thursday 27 December – Typhoons and Tornados hit three Daesh positions south-east of Hajin.
• Friday 28 December – Tornados destroyed a terrorist stockpile of weapons hidden underground in the western deserts of Iraq.
• Monday 31 December – Typhoons bombed a tunnel north of Baghdad where terrorists had taken up residence.
• Tuesday 1 January – a Reaper engaged a small group of extremists south-east of Hajin.
• Sunday 6 January – a Reaper struck terrorists in eastern Syria, to the north of Abu Kamal.
Royal Air Force aircraft have continued to fly daily armed reconnaissance missions over eastern Syria in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces offensive against Daesh around Hajin, as well as lending assistance when requested by the Iraqi security forces to prevent the terrorists from regaining a foothold within the country.
With the SDF pushing south-east from Hajin, Tornado GR4s provided close air support on Wednesday 19 December. The SDF encountered a truck-bomb concealed inside a building, and took cover whilst the Tornados dealt with the threat. A single Paveway IV guided bomb, on target, allowed them to continue their advance. Further support was rendered on Friday 21 December by a Reaper and another flight of Tornados. The Reaper’s crew successfully used a Hellfire missile against a small group of Daesh as they moved across country, whilst the Tornados destroyed two workshops which were producing improvised explosive devices. The following day, a Reaper spotted terrorists manning a heavy weapon and engaged them with a Hellfire which scored a direct hit. The Reaper then provided surveillance support to a coalition air strike on a Daesh-held building nearby. Tornados were also active south-east of Hajin, conducting Paveway IV attacks which destroyed a heavy machine-gun position and two other Daesh strong-points.
Further targets were identified on Monday 24 December, when Tornados, as ever supported by a Voyager air refuelling tanker, bombed two terrorist-held buildings in the path of the SDF advance. With Daesh continuing to lose ground, it was necessary to prevent them moving men and equipment, most particularly their favoured truck-bombs, along a road towards the SDF; a pair of Typhoons cratered the road with Paveway IVs on Wednesday 26 December. The Typhoons then joined a Tornado flight in destroying three Daesh-occupied buildings: the Typhoons dealt with one target, the Tornados struck the other two. The Tornados remained on station to provide further assistance if required by the SDF, and subsequently attacked a further two buildings from which the terrorists were firing. On Thursday 27 December, Typhoons bombed two more buildings held by Daesh, whilst Tornados hit a third.
Coalition aircraft remain available to support the Iraqi security forces as and when required, to ensure Iraq remains free of Daesh. Intelligence established that a terrorist stockpile of weapons was concealed deep in the western deserts of Anbar province, and two Tornados were tasked with its destruction on Friday 28 December. This was accomplished using a pair of Paveway IVs. A number of terrorists were meanwhile tracked to tunnels hidden beneath an extensive palm grove some twenty miles north of Baghdad; Typhoons carried out a successful attack, again with two Paveway IVs, against the tunnels and the terrorists within.
Operations continued south-east of Hajin on New Year’s Day, with a Reaper providing overwatch for the SDF. Surveillance support was given to a coalition air strike on a Daesh strong-point, and the Reaper’s crew then tracked terrorists as they attempted to take up new positions, engaging them with a Hellfire missile. With the SDF pushing further to the south and east of Hajin, along the road to Abu Kamal, a Reaper again flew overwatch for them on Sunday 6 January. The Reaper tracked a Daesh group to a compound some miles north of Abu Kamal, and provided targeting support to coalition fast jets as they subsequently delivered an attack. Two terrorists attempted to take up a new position after the compound was bombed, but were successfully engaged by the Reaper, using a Hellfire missile.
UK contribution to the fight against Daesh
Campaign against Daesh
On Friday 23 November, Syrian Democratic Forces attacking Daesh positions to the north and north-east of Hajin came into contact with several groups of terrorists in the open desert. Two Tornado GR4s and two Typhoon FGR4s provided close air support to the SDF; a blanket of cloud covered the area, but close coordination with the SDF and the precision of the Paveway IV bombs allowed our aircraft to conduct strikes through the cloud on seven Daesh targets, all successful, despite the often close proximity of the SDF to the enemy. Two Daesh armed trucks and a heavy machine-gun position were amongst the targets reported by the SDF to have been hit. Similar close support was provided on Saturday 24 November, when the continuing difficult weather conditions did not prevent a flight of Typhoons from striking five groups of terrorists caught in the open, and a Tornado reconnaissance mission hitting a sixth.
No further targets required prosecution by RAF aircraft until Monday 3 December, when the SDF encountered Daesh positions a couple of miles to the north of Hajin. A pair of Tornados supported them, delivering two attacks in rapid succession. The first attack simultaneously targeted an armoured bulldozer and a group of Daesh in the open; although dropped through cloud, both Paveways were reported by the SDF to have struck their targets accurately. The same was true of the Paveway IV released shortly afterwards in the second attack, against a tunnel in which a number of terrorists were concealed.
On Wednesday 5 December, Typhoons supported an SDF advance north-west of Hajin. The SDF came into contact with two Daesh positions, but heavy cloud gave the terrorists no protection and both targets were successfully struck with Paveway IVs. Typhoons conducted a further strike in the same area the following day, accounting for a further terrorist position.
A Tornado flight was directed onto a group of terrorists, along with a number of vehicles, north-west of Hajin, on Friday 7 December. Once again, persistent cloud complicated the attack, but a Paveway IV was guided accurately onto the group and their vehicles. North of Hajin, the SDF reported being in a firefight with two Daesh defensive positions; Typhoons worked closely with the SDF to eliminate the threat from both targets, hitting them with Paveways. Two more Daesh positions nearby were bombed by Typhoons on Saturday 8 December. On Sunday 9 December, Typhoons used a single Paveway IV to destroy a Daesh-held building on the northern outskirts of Hajin.
With the SDF having now advanced into Hajin itself, a Reaper provided prolonged close air support to them on Monday 10 December. Its crew conducted three attacks with the Reaper’s Hellfire missiles against Daesh terrorists engaged in often close-quarters combat with the SDF, and provided surveillance support to four attacks by other coalition aircraft. These included attacks by a pair of RAF Typhoons which destroyed two Daesh strongpoints. Another Reaper continued to support the SDF on Tuesday 11 December; its crew identified a group of Daesh with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, firing at the SDF, and engaged them with a Hellfire missile. The Reaper’s crew then observed another group of terrorists repositioning after a firefight with the SDF, and caught them in the open with a second Hellfire. Meanwhile, a coalition surveillance aircraft had identified a Daesh mortar team operating under cover of trees, and was able to direct the Reaper onto this target, which was successfully attacked with a GBU-12 guided bomb.
Reaper support to the SDF continued into Wednesday 12 December. Several terrorists were spotted in a treeline, and successfully targeted with a GBU-12. The Reaper’s crew then observed extremists loading a truck with weapons and ammunition; they and the vehicle were struck with a Hellfire missile. Two more Hellfire attacks were carried out during the patrol, one hitting a group of terrorists firing at the SDF, the other striking a number of terrorists as they held a meeting behind the front line. Tornados were also active over Hajin, as the SDF advanced ever further into the town, and they carried out a successful attack with three Paveway IVs against a Daesh operating base.
Tornado and Typhoon flights provided close air support to the SDF as they fought to clear Daesh from areas of eastern and southern Hajin on Thursday 13 December. Very close coordination was required between our aircraft and the SDF since the latter were engaged in close-range combat with the terrorists; two attacks by the Typhoons accounted for five Daesh defensive positions, whilst three attacks by the Tornados dealt with a further four terrorist strongpoints.
On Friday 14 December, with the main town of Hajin reported to be largely liberated, a Reaper supported the SDF as they consolidated their control. Its crew conducted two successful attacks with Hellfire missiles against groups of terrorists observed south of the town. To the south-east, Tornados meanwhile assisted the SDF as they advanced down the main road towards Abu Kamal; Paveway IVs were used to eliminated a Daesh sniper team and a strongpoint, as well as cratering a road to prevent the terrorists moving up truck-bombs to attack a newly liberated area. Typhoons also provided close air support to the SDF, conducting attacks which struck six Daesh strongpoints, all of which had been firing on the SDF, as well as an armoured ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft vehicle.
The SDF continued to push south-east from Hajin on Saturday 15 December: a Reaper supported a coalition airstrike, then employed Hellfire missiles to engage three groups of terrorists, including one group loading weapons and equipment onto a truck. A GBU-12 guided bomb was also used to target terrorists who were sniping at the SDF from a building. Tornados also patrolled the area, and bombed a Daesh position south of Hajin. The following day, a Reaper spotted a large group of extremists advancing towards the SDF. The Reaper helped disrupt this attempted attack with a series of three Hellfire and one GBU-12 engagements – among the targets struck was a light machine-gun team firing on the SDF – and also provided surveillance support to other coalition aircraft. A second Reaper worked with a pair of Typhoons over a nearby area; the Reaper struck a number of Daesh with a Hellfire, whilst the Typhoons conducted two attacks, hitting four Daesh-held buildings.
Typhoons conducted further attacks south-east of Hajin on Monday 17 December. The SDF advance ran into a series of Daesh defensive positions, but in the course of three separate Paveway IV attacks, the Typhoons were able to strike accurately through heavy cloud to hit five Daesh-held buildings, as well as a group of terrorists caught in the open. In each case, the weapons had to be delivered with great care and precision given the proximity of the SDF to the targets, with which they were engaged in firefights.