Analysis of information released by the Ministry of Defence shows a huge rise in the number of British air strikes against ISIS in Iraq since October 2015. In addition our analysis also shows that the UK’s adoption of the US methodology for counting air strikes means that official MoD strike figures undercount strikes by around 30% compared with the traditional British methodology.
Increased British air strikes in Iraq
|British air and drone strikes against ISIS (Jan 15 – Jan 16)|
Drone Wars’ analysis of updates published by the MoD on their website show that in the three months between August and October 2015 there were a total of 110 British air and drone strikes in Iraq. In the three months since (Nov 15 – Jan 16) that has rocketed by 300% to 330 strikes. The RAF’s Deputy Commander of Operations, Air Marshall Greg Bagwell – dubbed the “RAF’s senior warfighter” – took to twitter this week to congratulate ‘the team’:
The increase in British strikes can partially be attributed to the deployment of further aircraft to undertake air strikes. In December two additional Tornados and 6 Typhoons were deployed to RAF Akrotiri for operations against ISIS doubling the number of manned aircraft in operations. However according to our analysis, strikes have tripled.
The vast majority of British strikes continue to be in Iraq despite the parliamentary vote to authorise military action in Syria on December 2nd. According to the updates (as at 31 Jan 2016) 44 British air strikes have been launched inside Syria out of a total of 265 strikes since the vote to extend military action into Syria, about 16% of British air strikes.
The number of strikes undertaken by British drones appears however, to be a fairly consistent across the year (see table and graph below). Conversely, according to figures received in response to a recent FoI request, the number of British drone missions in Iraq and Syria have actually declined – by around a third between Oct and Dec 2015. We have asked the MoD to confirm these figures but have not had a response (Update – MoD have now confirmed the figures as being correct – 10-02-2016)
Official figures ‘disappear’ strikes
Meanwhile, the UK’s adoption of the US methodology for counting air strikes means that official MoD strike figures now undercount strikes by around 30% compared with the traditional British methodology. In a written statement in July 2015 the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs he had “concluded that it would be preferable in future to use Coalition produced numbers for UK strikes.”
We have compared the figures given for UK strikes over a 12 month period (October 2014 to September 2015) using both methodologies. According to the UK methodology there were 438 British air strikes in that 12 month period but according to the US methodology there were only 312, a difference of some 30%. In its most recent FoI response to us, the MoD refused to give us figures using the traditional UK methodology saying they are simply no longer compiled.
We believe this is a serious decrease in transparency. Campaigners have been attempting to monitor UK air and drone strikes using four different metrics – official MoD strike figures (UK methodology and US methodology), munitions fired, and analysis of the narrative updates released by the MoD on its website (see graphic and table below). The US methodology shows the least number of strikes.