London, Aug 4: The UK today announced an extension of its airstrikes against the dreaded Islamic State militant group by a year till 2017, saying that the country would continue to play its part to defeat the "barbaric regime".
The squadron of ageing Tornado GR4 fighter bombers which was due to be disbanded this year will now be kept on and used in the airstrikes, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said. "ISIL terrorists pose a threat to security of Iraq, Syria, the wider region and to the streets of Britain.
It is therefore our duty to ensure that the UK continues to play its part to defeat this barbaric regime," Fallon said during a visit to Baghdad.
"Our aircraft have flown thousands of missions and RAF Tornados have carried out hundreds of strikes, helping Iraqi forces push back ISIL from the Kurdish region and out of key towns such as Tikrit and Bayji," Fallon said.
"We want to ensure we maintain this crucial operational tempo and so we will extend the lifetime of Number 12 Squadron for a further year to March, 2017. This will allow us to sustain our effort, helping the Iraqis lead the fight on the ground," he said.
Tornados began carrying out missions in Iraq last September as part of US-led air strikes against IS, an extremist group which has seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria. The squadron of Tornado GR4 fighter bombers Number 12 Squadron was due to be disbanded last year and replaced with a squadron of Typhoon air defence fighters.
But, following initial air strikes, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Tornados would continue in their specialist ground-attack role until March 2016. In response to the announcement, the UK's Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, said: "The decision to retain the third Tornado GR4 squadron for a further year is welcome news."
"It is clear that the requirement for fast jet precision strike and intelligence gathering shows no sign of diminishing; extending the life of Number 12 (Bomber) Squadron will allow the Royal Air Force to continue to provide a unique and hugely valuable contribution to the coalition fight against ISIS," Pulford said.
In his second trip to the country as UK Secretary of State for Defence, Fallon also met with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi, Iraqi Defence Minister Khalid Mut'ib Al-Obeidi and Iraqi National Security Advisor Dr Falih al-Fayyadh to "welcome the steps taken on political reform".
He also met with US Lieutenant General James Terry Commander of the Coalition Headquarters for an operational update.