British pilots have been taking part in coalition bombing raids against the Islamic State in Syria, a freedom of information request has revealed.
Flight by British pilot officers across war-zone Syria in apparent defiance of a 2013 commons vote to not commit UK forces to the country has caused consternation today, with members of parliament and human rights activists questioning the activity.
The Guardian reports the comments of Conservative member of parliament John Baron, who said the British pilots bombing Syria showed “an insensitivity to parliament’s will”, referring to the 2013 vote. He said:
“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. We voted in 2013, when parliament had been recalled from recess, that there should be no British military intervention in Syria. We were told that No 10 had got the message and that any future intervention would be subject to a vote.
“Here we are learning that we have British military personnel engaged in air strikes, so I hope the government takes the earliest opportunity to come to parliament and explain its position because I think a number of colleagues will ask questions.”
The government is presently gearing up to force the matter to a vote again, citing a change in circumstances and a clear need to engage the Islamic State wherever it can be found. Countering that, American human rights lawyer and anti-airstrike activist Jennifer Gibson claimed the fact British pilots were already flying missions made another vote “somewhat obsolete”.
Despite the clear concern from some quarters, the bombing raids by a small number of British pilots does not resemble a deliberate attempt to circumvent the will of the commons by the government, but rather the natural outcome of a long-standing defence arrangement with Britain’s closest allies. Military secondments or ’embeds’ to nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have been taking place since the second world war. The postings have led to British soldiers serving in a number of conflicts unofficially, including hundreds of personnel in the United States and Australian armed forces in Vietnam.
Under these arrangements, British personel embed in other forces for the purposes of interoperability, training, and mutual understanding between allies. It means American officers attend British staff colleges and a British naval officer navigates American warship USS WINSTON CHURCHILL. Although it is not presently known which aircraft were flown by the pilots, the government has revealed that three air force officers flew sorties with Canadian and American forces.
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