Overview of UK air strikes in Iraq and Syria since the territorial defeat of ISIS in March 2019

UK air strikes on caves in Iraq in March 2021

More than 2½ years after the Kurdish-led, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) overran the final piece of ISIS held territory, the UK continue to undertake air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Shader.

Although the MoD has published some details of these strikes, through analysis of statistical data we discovered that a number of UK strikes had gone unreported, including the targeting of an individual on a motorcycle in Syria.

Using Freedom of Information requests, we managed to gain some information about these missing strikes and so, for the first time, can detail all UK air and drone strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since March 2019.  A full list is available at the bottom of this post and and see map below.

Locations approximate. Yellow= Reaper, Blue= Typhoon. Click icons for further details

Overall, in the 30 months between April 2019 and September 2021, the UK has launched 34 air strikes at ISIS targets, 31 in Iraq and 3 in Syria. Notably, all the UK strikes within Syria have been carried out by drones. However, the term ‘air strike’ covers a variety of different engagement, from one aircraft launching one missile at an individual target, to a number of aircraft launching multiple missiles and bombs at a number of targets within roughly the same geographical area. In the 34 strikes reported here, UK aircraft and drones fired 139 missiles and bombs, including 10 huge, 3,000lb Storm Shadow cruise missile. Curiously, although hailed by the MoD for its precision, the UK-developed Brimstone missile has not been used once in this period.

The primary targets of UK air strikes in this period have been caves and/or tunnels where groups of ISIS fighters have been hiding. Only 3 strikes appear to have been undertaken following a direct armed confrontation between ISIS and Iraqi security forces.

Without question, the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria remain a very serious threat to the people of Iraq and Syria.  In its brief reports to parliament on UK actions in Iraq and Syria, the government says that ISIS also remains a threat to the UK, but it is questionable whether militants in Iraq and Syria are a direct threat to the UK (as opposed to those in and around Europe who have professed allegiance to the Islamic State group).

As there has been no (or very little) UK troop deployment to Iraq and Syria due to the use of drones and other aircraft to launch strikes, there has been no significant public call to bring UK military operations there to an end.  The MoD has previously argued for greater use of contractors, drones and special forces in armed conflicts in order to keep the public on-board with prolonged operations and this appears to be working.  At this point, it seems that UK air strikes in Iraq and Syria will continue without end as part of a ‘forever war’.

The UK continues to insist that there has only been one civilian casualty from more than 2,000 UK air and drone strikes over the past seven years, despite much public scepticism and even push back from the US military.

Beyond operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, UK drones are also undertaking sorties elsewhere but the government are refusing all requests for further information.

Click to access UK-strikes-Apri-2019-Sept-2021b.pdf

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