THE UK government was accused of “riding roughshod” over Parliament yesterday after ministers announced a 12-month extension to the bombing campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
The announcement, while MPs were on their summer recess, also came with a hint from Defence Secretary Michael Fallon that he intends to seek permission soon from Parliament to allow the RAF to start carrying out raids in Syria as well as Iraq.
The decision to continue the UK’s involvement in the Nato action supporting the Iraqi army against IS, also widely known as Isil or Daesh, means the ageing Tornados used for the raids will have their service lives extended by 12 months.
The 12 (Bomber) Squadron will continue in service for a further year until March 2017. The squadron of Tornado GR4 fighter bombers – previously designated 2 Squadron – had originally been due to be disbanded last March and replaced with a squadron of Typhoon air defence fighters.
But following the launch of airstrikes last September, Prime Minister David Cameron announced they would carry on for an additional 12 months so they could continue in their specialist ground-attack role.
Speaking during a visit to Baghdad, Mr Fallon said the second extension would ensure that the RAF retained “the essential precision firepower, intelligence and surveillance” capabilities needed for operations against IS.
On the prospect of extending action to Syrian territory, Mr Fallon said: “It’s not the number of aircraft, it’s where they are and what the rest of the coalition – and there are some 16 other countries involved in strikes against Isil – would welcome is certainly the participation of Tornado in strikes against Isil headquarters in northern Syria.
“But to do that obviously we need the authority of Parliament, we have a new Parliament now, and at some point I think the new Parliament will have to reflect on the illogicality of our planes turning back, if you like, at the border while other countries fly on to deal with Isil’s headquarters.”
SNP MP and former first minister Alex Salmond accused Mr Fallon of avoiding questions on military action.
He said: “There are a range of important questions about the extension of the role of Britain’s ageing fleet of Tornados and the Defence Secretary dodged all of them. However, the key questions for the government are not about Britain’s minor role in the bombing campaign – around 5 per cent of the total missions flown – but about how this military effort fits in with a badly needed strategy on how to tackle Daesh extremism.
“As we see from both Iraq and Libya, it is not effective to just bomb targets and move on. There needs to be a credible plan which takes into account the complexity of the situation on the ground. If the UK government have a thought-out, integrated strategy for dealing with Daesh, then let’s hear it but so far there’s been deathly silence from the Prime Minister.”
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara added: “MPs must be consulted and must give consent for any extension of military campaigns in the region. We cannot allow the UK government to ride roughshod over Parliament.”