The Sunday Telegraph

RAF bomb raids in Syria dismissed as ‘non-event’

- By Andrew Gilligan

BRITAIN’S controvers­ial air campaign in Syria has been branded a “nonevent” after it emerged that the RAF has carried out only one attack on the country in the last four weeks.

Since MPs voted for air attacks on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in Syria, RAF Tornados and Typhoons have mounted only three strike missions – all in the first five days of the operation.

No RAF manned strikes have been conducted on any Syrian target since Dec 6, it can be revealed.

The only further strike was on Christmas Day by an unmanned, remote-controlled Reaper drone, bringing the total number of British strike missions to four.

Figures released by US Central Command (Centcom), which is running the operation, suggest that during their missions the Tornados and Typhoons may have dropped as few as 19 bombs.

The disclosure­s call into question claims by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, at the beginning of the Syria operation that the UK was “really upping the tempo” with an “intense focus” on hitting infrastruc­ture.

He also claimed that the manned missions in the first week of December had been “successful” and had struck “a very real blow” against Isil. In fact, all of the RAF manned missions were against the Omar oilfield, which had already suffered “long-term incapacita­tion” in a much larger American raid on Oct 21, according to a US spokesman, Major Michael Filanowski.

Britain has carried out reconnaiss­ance over Syria and continued to make air strikes on Isil targets in Iraq, both of which it was already doing before MPs voted last month.

“There is an almost complete disconnect between the heated political debate in Britain over Syria and what the Government has actually done,” said Jon Lake, a military aviation expert. “Britain’s air campaign in Syria so far is basically a non-event which can have had little, if any, impact on the balance of power on the ground.”

At a joint press conference with the US defence secretary, Ash Carter, in Washington on December 11, Mr Fallon claimed that the RAF would be conducting “more precision strikes against key infrastruc­ture” and “the supply routes between Syria and Iraq”.

However, this has not happened, partly because both nations, operating under stringent rules to guard against civilian casualties, have largely run out of Syrian targets.

Between December 1 and 22, according to figures from Centcom, American, British and other coalition aircraft carried out a total of 148 airstrikes on Syria, an average of just seven a day.

The United States carried out 127 and the “rest of coalition” 21, according to the Centcom figures. It is known that French aircraft carried out two strikes, meaning that no more than 19 strikes were carried out by the RAF.

A “strike” means that at least one bomb was dropped or missile fired.

Ministry of Defence reports of the RAF’s three attack missions in Syria spoke of them striking at least 17 targets. The drone attack on December 25 involved firing a single Hellfire missile at an Isil checkpoint south of Raqqa.

The MoD said the RAF’s contributi­on to reconnaiss­ance over Syria is more significan­t, with some reports that it is providing up to 60 per cent of the coalition’s tactical reconnaiss­ance capability. It declined to specify the number of reconnaiss­ance missions flown.

‘Britain’s air campaign so far can have had little, if any, impact on the balance of power on the ground’

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