Britain will be pulling out more than half of its warplanes operating in Syria and Iraq, just a month after the US announced its military withdrawal from Syria, the Daily Mail reported this week.
According to senior defence officials, the UK will be reducing the number of fighter jets in the region to just six, with eight Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornados set to return home by the end of this month. Although the Tornado models, based at the UK’s military base in Cyprus, were due to be replaced in March, it is understood that British army chiefs ruled out replacing them following the announcement of Trump’s exit plan.
However British military chiefs stressed that they were still ready to strike Daesh militants.
“The UK remains fully committed to the fight against Daesh, and the retirement of the Tornado will be not lead to a reduction in the capability of the RAF’s contribution to the global coalition,” a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.
Instead, the remaining Typhoon fighter jets will reportedly be upgraded, expanding their capabilities such that they can deploy an arsenal of ground-attack weapons and missiles.
The Tornado jets have been flying almost daily missions against Daesh since 2014 as part of “Operation Shader”, supporting a ground assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, funding cuts have impacted the UK’s defence inventory, with a Freedom of Information request revealing this week that a third of RAF planes, including the $100 million Typhoon jets, cannot fly. The RAF is believed to have shrunk to half its size in the last 25 years.
A source within the RAF told reporters that although the departure of the jets had been planned for some time, “anything [the US] does in the operational theatre affects us”, adding that the US plans to withdraw would have “undoubtedly” influenced British military plans.
The US president caused controversy when he announced last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of 2,000 US soldiers from Syria, declaring on Twitter that Daesh had been defeated, even as his troops battled with militants in the east of the country.
The move was condemned by his advisors and ground commanders, as well as other members of the international coalition, and Washington’s Kurdish partners on the ground.
The UK Foreign Office also stressed at the time that Daesh had not been defeated and whilst progress had been made, the group remained a threat even within a limited territory.
“We remain committed to the Global Coalition and the campaign to deny Daesh territory and ensure its enduring defeat, working alongside our critical regional partners in Syria and beyond,” a spokesman said. “As the situation on the ground develops, we will continue to discuss how we can achieve these aims with our Coalition partners, including the US.”
Yet the absence of the coalition’s largest contributor is likely to impact the mission, with the SDF particularly fearful as to their future security.