RAF Reaper drone supports French anti-ISIS airstrikes in Raqqa

A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. © Patrick T. Fallon
A Royal Air Force (RAF) drone was used to provide surveillance for a wave of French airstrikes on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, in the wake of the Paris attacks, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claim.

The Reaper drone collected intelligence ahead of French jets which reportedly hit around a dozen targets on Sunday evening. 

An RAF jet was also responsible for bombing 30 Islamic State militants near Sinjar, in northern Iraq, who were amassing to stage an attack on Kurdish fighters in the area. The MoD said the attack was “highly effective” and that most of the fighters had been killed.

A statement from the MoD, released on Tuesday, said the drone had “conducted routine intelligence collection against ISIL and provided surveillance support to the major French airstrike on a large terrorist facility near Raqqa.”

French forces ramped up their airstrikes after IS gunmen and suicide bombers launched attacks on the French capital on Friday.

The airstrikes hit 12 targets in Raqqa, Syrian activists said.

French authorities said the strikes continued into Tuesday morning and had successfully destroyed a command post and a training camp.

The MoD said the Tornado strike on Sinjar had taken place using jets based in Cyprus.

“The [Tornado jets] were able to guide a Paveway [laser-guided bomb] onto a large group of over 30 [IS] terrorists who were massing for a counter-attack; the Kurdish unit subsequently reported that the airstrike had been highly effective.”

The revelations come as Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to hold a vote on extending British airstrikes from Iraq into Syria to target IS militants.

Cameron said on Tuesday he will make the case for extending airstrikes into Syria in the coming days, hinting he will press for a parliamentary vote next week.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the prime minister said the attacks in Paris on Friday justify a “full spectrum approach,” including military power, counter-terrorism action and countering the narrative of extremism.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated he will only back military action if it is legally backed by the UN.
Cameron told the House of Commons the Paris attacks had strengthened the case for tackling IS on its own ground.

“It is in Syria, in Raqqa, that ISIL has its headquarters and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threat against this country are planned and orchestrated. Raqqa, if you like, is the head of the snake,” the PM said.

“Over Syria we are supporting our allies the US, France, Jordan and the Gulf countries with intelligence, with surveillance and with refueling. But I believe, as I have said many times before, we should be doing more. We face a direct and growing threat to our country and we need to deal with it, not just in Iraq, but in Syria too.

“The case for doing so has only grown stronger after the Paris attacks. We cannot expect, we should not expect, others to carry the burdens and risks of protecting our country,” he added.