British jets have launched strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq for the first time.
RAF Tornados successfully destroyed a heavy weapons post and a vehicle with a mounted machinegun, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.
The attacks came as the fighters flew their sixth sortie since parliament authorised UK involvement in the international military campaign last week.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “I can confirm that the RAF were in action today in support of the Iraqi government in north-west Iraq.
“Two GR4 Tornados from RAF Akrotiri were tasked to assist Kurdish troops who were under attack by Isil terrorists.”
An Mod statement said: “On arriving overhead, the RAF patrol, using their Litening III targeting pod, identified an Isil heavy weapon position which was engaging Kurdish ground forces
“One Paveway IV guided bomb was used to attack the Isil position. Following this engagement, the patrol identified an Isil armed pick-up truck in the same area and conducted an attack on the vehicle using a Brimstone missile.”
Mr Fallon added: “Both Tornados have now returned safely to base, and the initial assessment is that both attacks were successful.”
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted UK forces would not be “panicked” into dropping bombs in Iraq by reports of gains by Islamic State (IS/Isil) troops.
“When we do release our weapons, we have to be absolutely sure that they are against Isil targets, that they are not going to kill innocent Sunni Muslim civilians in areas that are occupied by Isil,” he said.
“Otherwise we are having the opposite of the effect we are intending to have.”
He added: “We are not going to be panicked into just dropping bombs all over the place because somebody’s reporting a movement [of IS forces].
“We have to make sure that we identify the enemy, we monitor their movements so we know where they are, and then we attack precisely the targets that we need to attack.” The Foreign Secretary risked infuriating the French – who have committed more fighter jets to the campaign against IS – by dismissing the idea that their air force has the same capabilities as the RAF.
“If there is an air force in the world that can carry out this task while minimising the risk of civilian casualties and the risk of collateral damage, the RAF is the air force,” he said.
“There is nobody who knows anything about air power who is suggesting the French air force is a more formidable force than the RAF.”
Confirmation of the strikes came as the wife of a British hostage issued a new plea for IS to release her husband.
Alan Henning, 47, a former taxi driver from Salford, was kidnapped last December in Syria by IS militants. His wife, Barbara Henning, said: “I ask Islamic State, please release him, we need him back home.”
She added: “Some say wrong time, wrong place. Alan was volunteering with his Muslim friends to help the people of Syria. He was in the right place doing the right thing.”