The RAF has carried out another mission over Syria, as David Cameron insisted British war planes can help to bring about a political settlement in the civil war-torn country.
After the bombing raid which immediately followed Wednesday’s House of Commons vote authorising action in Syria, two RAF Tornado fighter jets flew an armed patrol over the east of the country “gathering intelligence on terrorist activity”, the Ministry of Defence said.
And in a continuation of operations in Iraq, two Tornados “silenced” a “terrorist” sniper team with a “direct hit” from a Paveway IV guided bomb, it added.
More fighter jets have been sent to RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus ahead of further sorties in Syria and continued raids in Iraq against Islamic State (IS), which is also known as Isis, Isil and Daesh.
But the Free Syrian Army opposition group has claimed British intervention is “just a few more jets” over the course of a long campaign.
Bashar Assad’s regime, meanwhile, has denounced the mission as “noise and propaganda”, claiming that any country that does not co-ordinate its attacks with the government “won’t win the fight against terrorism”.
During a visit to Bulgaria, Mr Cameron said: “We’ve now got more Tornados and more Typhoons in Cyprus ready to take action over Iraq and Syria because we have to defeat Daesh wherever it is.
“Bringing everyone around the table and trying to get a political settlement is absolutely crucial but we can’t wait for that to happen before we start taking action against Daesh.”
He added: “The strikes actually help to bring about a political settlement because the strikes take the action to Daesh, which is everyone’s enemy, and we do need to have a moderate opposition in Syria that can be part of the future government.
“So the political process and the action against Daesh to keep us safe at home go hand in hand.”
British Tornado jets hit seven targets in eastern Syrian oil fields in a mission described as landing a “very real blow” by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. But Free Syrian Army spokesman Issam al-Reis said it “will not make a big difference”.
“It will be just a few more jets, [which have been] flying across Syria and hitting Isis for more than a year,” Mr al-Reis said. “The difference will be on the ground.
“Without boots on the ground it will be difficult to make any change.”
Mr Cameron is under fresh pressure over his claims that 70,000 fighters in Syria would be able to take on IS.
A senior Whitehall source was quoted as warning that the figure could become the equivalent of Tony Blair’s “dodgy dossier” claims ahead of the Iraq War.
“There were Ministry of Defence officials who maybe felt scarred after the previous dossier,” the source said.
“They looked at the latest text and said that [the 70,000 figure] could become the ‘45 minutes’ moment of this document.”