Britain deploys Tornados for Iraq aid reconnaissance

Ben Farmer — Telegraph.co.uk August 11, 2014

Britain is sending RAF Tornado jets back to Iraq, to help an international aid mission for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Islamic State extremists.

The jets are being sent to the Middle East in preparation for a surveillance mission scanning the deserts of northern Iraq where military aid flights are dropping supplies to thousands trapped without water or food.

Defence sources said the RAF needs a better picture of the situation on the ground to avoid a repeat of an aborted aid drop in the early hours of Monday.

An RAF C130 transport plane had to cancel its aid drop of water and supplies to desperate refugees in northern Iraq, for fear the bundles would strike people on the ground.

People began to run towards the plane as it approached the proposed drop zone near Mount Sinjar. Despite making several passes, the Hercules could not find a clear space to parachute the aid packages.

The jets are likely to be sent to Cyprus where the RAF already has two C130 Hercules transporters for the mission. A defence source said they could be operating within two days.

The aircraft will use Litening III electronic targeting pods to scan the terrain and build up a detailed picture of the landscape and positions of people, so crews can find safe sites to drop aid. They will also be armed for self defence, though military sources said the focus was on the humanitarian mission.

Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary, who chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee to discuss the crisis, said the situation was “challenging” and warned of a “potential humanitarian disaster on a huge scale”.

He said: “We are providing humanitarian assistance. This is not simple – getting it in is very challenging, getting people off that mountain is even more challenging – and the meeting we had this morning in Cobra looked at all the options available to us to step up our humanitarian support, including obtaining better situational awareness of what’s going on the mountain, both to facilitate the air drops and to start planning how we are going to get people out.”

The next air drop of humanitarian aid in northern Iraq is likely to be carried out within the next 24 hours.

Mr Hammond dismissed calls to recall Parliament to discuss the crisis. He said: “I don’t think that’s necessary at this time. We are talking about a humanitarian intervention. We have a very clear convention about consulting Parliament before British forces are committed into any kind of combat role.

“We are not talking about that here, we are simply talking about a humanitarian action, stepping up what we are doing in order to support this community trapped on the mountain.”

He added: “We don’t envisage a combat role at the present time. We are talking at the moment about a humanitarian operation and using our assets to gain more awareness of what’s going on this mountain – where people are, how we can get supplies into them and how we can help to get them out.”

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