RAF strikes targets in Syria after parliament votes to bomb ISIS
After a tumultuous day of impassioned debate, the motion to extend airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Some 67 Labour MPs voted in favor of the strikes, swinging the vote in the government’s favor.
Hours after the vote, RAF jets carried out their first airstrikes on Syrian territory, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said early Thursday. He refused to give details of the specific sites targeted.
Earlier in the evening, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said raids could begin “very quickly” because jets are already stationed in the Middle East where they are carrying out attacks in Iraq.
Among the standout speeches in the course of the mammoth 10 hour debate was Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn’s closing remarks, which called on MPs to act following the atrocities in Paris last month.
The “carnage” in Paris “brought home the present danger” to the UK and fostered the need to act against the extremists, he said, because it could have been and “could still be” a British city.
Benn added it is Britain’s “moral and practical” duty to extend airstrikes into Syria.
The result will be welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who previously pledged to only hold a vote once he was guaranteed the support of parliament.
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suffered an embarrassing defeat, with 67 of his own MPs voting against him. He was forced by a rebellious shadow cabinet to allow his party to hold a free vote.
Still, the majority of Labour MPs – 153 – and 16 members of the Shadow Cabinet supported Corbyn in his case against launching Britain’s new overseas bombing campaign. Fifty-three MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP) also cast “No” votes, along with three Social Democratic and Labour Party MPs. Others opposing the motion were two Liberal Democrats, two Plaid Cymru MPs, and one Green MP.
Earlier on Wednesday a spokesperson for the Corbyn camp said they expected to lose the vote, but claimed the government had “lost the argument.”
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said airstrikes would ultimately pave the way for a battle on the ground, which he said is the only way to defeat IS.
“Airstrikes alone will not finish ISIL,” he said “but they will over time degrade ISIL and force a change in its behavior.”
Hammond said a ground assault will be needed in the end to oust ISIL from its Raqqa stronghold.
“Ultimately there will need to be a ground assault on Raqqa,” he said. “That will come in months or perhaps years.”
The vote on Wednesday evening was met with anti-war protests throughout the UK, with demonstrators in London staging a “die-in” outside the Houses of Parliament that blocked roads and brought traffic to a standstill.