RAF AKROTIRI Cyprus (Reuters) - Two British fighter jets flew over Iraq on Saturday on their first mission since the UK parliament authorised bombing missions against Islamic State militants, but they did not carry out any air strikes, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said.
The Tornado jets left the British Royal Air Force’s Akrotiri base in Cyprus at 8:25 a.m. BST and returned more than seven hours later, a Reuters witness said.
“Although on this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft, the intelligence gathered by the Tornados’ highly sophisticated surveillance equipment will be invaluable,” the MOD said.
The jets had been ready to be used in an attack role, had appropriate targets been identified.
The United States has been conducting air strikes over Iraq since Aug. 8 and over Syria since Tuesday as part of a campaign to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State insurgents who have captured swathes of both countries, beheaded Western hostages and ordered Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.
With Friday’s parliamentary vote, Britain joined a U.S.-led coalition supported by some Gulf and European nations against the militant group. France has also conducted air strikes in Iraq, while Washington said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates joined strikes over Syria on Saturday.
The MOD said Saturday’s mission would help Britain and its partners identify future potential targets in Iraq. They were supported by an RAF Voyager refuelling tanker.
Six Tornado jets, normally based at RAF Marham in England, have been based on Cyprus since August. They have been engaged in intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance over Iraq for the past six weeks. Britain retains two military bases on Cyprus, which it ruled as a colony until independence in 1960.
Additional reporting by Sarah Young in London; Editing by Mark Trevelyan