The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH) - Defence Contents

5  Britain and Iraq

68. Despite its major role in Iraq from 2003-2007, the British Government appears to have walked away from Iraq from 2007 until the summer of 2014. In 2009, it ceased to pay for Iraqi officers to undertake officer training at Sandhurst. In 2011, it closed the British Consulate General in Basra (despite Basra being the base of all UK military operations and the major oil-producing region of the country). In the spring of 2014, it seems that Iraq was a low priority for UK intelligence, there was no Defence section in Kurdistan, no DFID office in Iraq, and the political section of the British Embassy in Baghdad consisted of three relatively junior, although extremely able, employees on short-term deployments leading to a frequent turnover of staff.

The current UK contribution

69. In his update to the House on the implementation of the National Security Strategy the Prime Minister set out the Government's actions in response to DAESH as:

    In addition to providing UK humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of those displaced by ISIL's violence, the Government is working to: disrupt attack-planning against the UK and our interests; counter ISIL's propaganda; isolate ISIL by supporting inclusive political governance that can reach out to all communities in Iraq and Syria; strengthen those moderate forces fighting ISIL on the ground; cut off ISIL's access to funds and fighters; help strengthen the resilience of neighbouring countries; and bring the widest possible coalition of countries together to degrade ISIL through diplomatic engagement. Following the debate in Parliament on 26 September, the UK's response extended to include UK air strikes in Iraq to support local security forces fighting ISIL on the ground; and in October, the Defence Secretary confirmed that UK aircraft would also begin surveillance missions over Syria to gather intelligence. A sustained effort across all these elements will be needed in order to defeat ISIL and its violent ideology.[94]

70. In written evidence to this inquiry, the MOD set out what resources were currently deployed to the Middle East in support of the international coalition effort to combat DAESH.

·  Eight Tornado GR4 aircraft;

·  One C130 Hercules transport aircraft;

·  One Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft;

·  One Voyager air-to-air refuelling aircraft;

·  [MQ-9] Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft; and

·  Approximately 400 UK personnel in support of the above assets; as part of a regional liaison network in coalition and partners' headquarters, and as a contribution to the developing training presence in Iraq,[95] (it subsequently emerged that the vast majority of these '400' were not in Iraq).

The UK has also gifted equipment to the Peshmerga, and run several three-week training courses for the Peshmerga.[96]


71. The purpose of UK air strikes has been, it seems, threefold. First, to 'contain DAESH' and prevent them from expanding out of their existing territory by taking new areas of Iraq. Second to 'degrade' DAESH by targeting their equipment, units and infrastructure, and—according to General Messenger—to reduce their morale and increase that of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga.[97] Third, to support the ground troops of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga in retaking territory from DAESH—most recently at Bayji and in Sinjar.

72. When we visited Iraq as part of this inquiry, many of those we met were at pains to emphasise the value provided by the airstrikes to both the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga, both in terms of helping to retake territory and in challenging the myth of infallibility which DAESH have cultivated. Lieutenant General Gordon Messenger said that the effectiveness of the attacks could be seen in DAESH resorting to more asymmetric tactics, including the use of IEDs and using extensive measures to avoid being struck: moving at night, using bad weather to provide cover and avoiding grouping in open areas.[98]

73. On the 17 December, the Secretary of State for Defence told us that, thanks to their commitment of surveillance aircraft, the UK was also a major source of surveillance and intelligence-gathering, second only to the US contribution.[99]


74. We visited UK military personnel who comprised the Short-Term Training Team based near Sulemaniyah. At that time the team consisted of 48 UK personnel and 27 Danes, under the auspices of the Central Joint Operations Centre (CJOC), run by US General Kurilla. Training consisted of straightforward infantry training and was designed to be sustainable, being carried out using equipment already available to them, not equipment specially provided by the UK.

75. The UK and Danish forces were to remain until February, by when it was hoped a consistent plan for Peshmerga training would be set out. It was explained that the uncertain demand for training being put forward by the Peshmerga meant it was difficult to plan for drawing on additional trainers. Additionally, the locations for such training were undecided. The coalition training plan also, at that time, included another coalition country's force component to take on artillery training, as their troops were expected to be allowed to the front line (unlike UK troops who were not allowed within 20 km of front line). The quality of the UK and Danish forces' work and commitment in Sulemaniyah, in a basic facility, was appreciated by the Kurdish forces and by the Committee and we commend them for their professionalism and forbearance in carrying out their tasks.

76. The other method of supporting the Peshmerga utilised by the coalition is providing the Regional Government and the Peshmerga with military equipment, through arrangement with the Iraqi Government, with shipments routed via Baghdad. The UK has provided 40 Heavy Machine Guns and ammunition as well as ration packs, sleeping bags, helmets, body armour and eye protection.[100]

Assessing the scale of the UK contribution

77. The Secretary of State for the Defence has insisted that the UK operations in Iraq are 'major'. The Prime Minister implied that the UK contribution was second only to that of the US:

    If you look at the kinetic action—the bombing that has been done of ISIL positions in Iraq—I think Britain has taken the second largest role, after the United States. I think we have done five times as much as, for instance, France.[101]

But, in reality, the UK contribution so far has been—in comparison to actions taken between 2003-06 and even in relation to other coalition partners—surprisingly modest.

78. In the House on Monday 12 December, the Defence Secretary announced that only 99 air strikes had been carried out since the UK started flying missions.[102] This amounted to fewer than one a day. Six days prior, US CENTCOM (which is coordinating strikes) announced that 1,676 strikes have been carried out, meaning that the UK is responsible for just 6% of the strikes carried out so far.[103] This refers to the number of strikes carried out rather than missions (or sorties) flown, which will, of course, be much greater but upon which there is no recent publicly available data, making it difficult to draw a comparison.

79. In terms of weapons, the UK has only contributed 40 UK Heavy Machine Guns to the Kurdish Regional Government. The Germans by comparison have provided:

·  8,000 G3 assault rifles with 2 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition;

·  40 MG3 machine guns with 1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition;

·  8,000 G36 assault rifles with 4 million rounds of 5.56mm ammunition;

·  8,000 Walther P1 pistols with 1 million rounds of 9mm ammunition;

·  30 MILAN anti-tank guided missile launchers with 500 anti-tank rounds;

·  200 Panzerfaust 3 light anti-tank weapons with 2,500 rounds;

·  40 Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless rifles with 1,000 battlefield illumination rounds;

·  100 flare guns (signal pistols) with 4,000 battlefield illumination rounds;

·  10,000 hand grenades;

·  4,000 sets of personal protection equipment (helmets, body armour, ballistic safety glasses); and

·  270 personal medical kits[104]

The US have provided 393 up-armoured Humvees to Kurdish Forces.[105] We were also told that the German Government had provided the Kurdish Regional Government with five Dingo armoured vehicles and that the US had provided 25 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs).

80. The UK presence outside the Kurdish areas is also remarkably small. At the time of our visit to Baghdad—six months after the capture of Mosul—the entire UK military presence outside the Kurdish regions amounted to three individuals (outside of members of the UK Embassy defence section). By comparison the Australians have offered up to 400 troops, the Spanish 300 troops, and Italy 280. The US has authorised up to 3,100 personnel to be in Iraq.[106]

94   Cabinet Office, Annual Report on the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, 18 December 2014 Back

95   MOD, (ISI 0016)  Back

96   MOD, (ISI 0016) Back

97   Q320 Back

98   Q320 Back

99   Oral evidence taken on 17 Dec 2014, HC (2014-15) 512, Q348 Back

100   MOD, (ISI 0016) Back

101   Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee, 16 December 2014, HC (2014-15) 887, Q66 Back

102   HC Deb, 12 Jan 2015, col. 590 Back

103   U.S.-led air strikes have hit 3,222 Islamic State targets: Pentagon, Reuters, 7 January 2015  Back

104   American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (John Hopkins University), German Military Aid to the Kurdish Peshmerga,16 September 2014  Back

105   Iraqi train and equip programme gets under way, Jane's Defence Weekly, 9 January 2015  Back

106   HL Deb, 15 Dec 2014, col 52, HC Deb 15 Dec 2014, col. 1129 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 5 February 2015