The UK Defence Secretary said that British pilots will continue airstrikes in Syria without the approval of Parliament.
Despite MPs voting against military action in 2013, it was confirmed by Downing Street today that David Cameron knew British pilots were bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
The Mail Online reports:
Ministers were accused of deceiving the public yesterday after it emerged that at least three Royal Navy pilots have been killing IS fighters in the war-torn country even though MPs have voted against military action there.
Michael Fallon said he had always known ‘a handful’ of UK military personnel were involved in air strikes against jihadists in Syria, but this was acceptable because they were embedded with the US military.
Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, the Defence Secretary added: ‘This is quite standard practice. Isil has to be defeated. We don’t have, at the moment, parliamentary authority to carry out military strikes in Syria, but the Americans do… and they have been doing that to keep all of us safe.’
Asked if British pilots would continue their role, he said: ‘Exchanges between allies are absolutely routine – there aren’t a huge number of them, but they help, of course, with interoperability with our key allies.’
Mr Fallon said he would not seek approval from Parliament because this was different from British planes conducting air strikes.
He added that when – not if – British military strikes began in Syria, he would seek approval. ‘When we are going to run British military operations in Syria, including strikes, then of course we’ve said we will go to Parliament for approval, but this is different,’ he said.
‘These are a handful of British pilots embedded with American forces and are part of American military operations for which the Americans have full approval.’ David Cameron was also aware that RAF pilots were taking part in bombing raids over Syria, but did not tell Parliament. Labour accused the Prime Minister of withholding vital information and called for him to make a statement to the Commons on Monday.
Labour defence spokesman Vernon Coaker said the missions should stop, and Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn warned of ‘mission creep’, saying: ‘Our involvement, if we’re bombing now, will lead to deeper involvement and then will lead to pressure for ground forces.’
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the involvement of RAF pilots in air strikes without parliamentary approval was ‘a breach of trust with the British people’.
Tory MP John Baron said: ‘This is more cock-up than conspiracy, but questions must be answered.’
MPs voted against military action in Syria in 2013 and air strikes there remain a controversial issue.
British fighter jets are dropping bombs on Islamic State militants in Iraq, but they are only allowed to fly spy planes over Syria.
A new vote on the issue is to take place in the autumn.
The US has been conducting bombing raids over Syria since last September. It deployed its aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson shortly afterwards, along with a squadron of Super Hornet fighter jets. It only emerged yesterday, via a Freedom of Information request, that at least three British fighter pilots were flying the aircraft.
Wearing US overalls but with British badges, they would have been flying over Syria from last October until spring, when the carrier returned to the US.
The Ministry of Defence said they are not currently flying US planes.
Mr Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, said: ‘This action clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons two years ago for the UK not to take part in a bombing campaign in Syria.
‘The Government’s policy in this matter is entirely unacceptable – effectively overseeing a bombing campaign by stealth – and we need to know what the Defence Secretary knew, when he knew it, and when he was proposing to tell the country.
‘The case for bombing in Syria has simply not been made, and the complexity of the situation is such that support for one faction is unlikely to produce a desirable outcome
New Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the involvement of RAF pilots in air strikes without the approval of Parliament was ‘a breach of trust with the British people’.
‘They desperately want the West to attack them and to be seen to attack them. We are utterly playing in to their hands if we do this,’ Mr Farron told Sky News.
While under the foreign forces’ chain of command, they are authorised to take part in those nations’ operations which can include airstrikes.
The Ministry of Defence said that while embedded with allied forces, UK personnel are ‘effectively operating as foreign troops.’
Tory back-bencher John Baron, who voted against military action in Syria in 2013, said the government had been insensitive to allow the pilots to take part.
RAF pilots in particular are expected to spend up to four years with the US Air Force to build up their skill set in top-of-the-range F35 military jets.
When embedded abroad British servicemen are expected to slot into that host nation’s chain of command.
This can also mean British servicemen giving orders to foreign soldiers, the Ministry of Defence said tonight.
Three RAF pilots are currently operating as foreign troops.
He called on the military to withdraw troops from the embedded programme and demanded the government explained the decision.