RAF bombing raids on oil wells in eastern Syria have dealt a “real blow” to the financing of terror group Islamic State, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said.
Mr Fallon confirmed that he personally approved the targets in the Omar oil field before Wednesday night’s House of Commons vote, and gave final permission for the raid to go ahead after MPs had given their approval for the extension of air strikes from Iraq into Syria.
The Defence Secretary indicated that military action against IS - also known as Isil, Isis and Daesh - can be expected to continue for years, rather than months, telling BBC1’s Breakfast: “This is not going to be quick.”
Mr Fallon said: “I can confirm that four British Tornados were in action after the vote last night attacking oil fields in eastern Syria - the Omar oil fields - from which the Daesh terrorists receive a huge part of their revenue.”
He added: “This strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh terrorists depend.”
Four RAF Tornado jets carrying Paveway IV guided bombs took off from the UK’s Akrotiri base in Cyprus shortly after the late-night vote in the Commons, to carry out attacks in Syria in the early hours of the morning.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the planes had returned from the “first offensive operation over Syria and have conducted strikes”.
MPs voted by 397 to 223 - a majority of 174 - in favour of extending British action against IS into its Syrian strongholds.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said MPs took the “right decision to keep the UK safe”.
Mr Fallon said the vote had “freed the RAF up” to attack targets on the Syrian side of the border, as well as in Iraq, where the UK has been taking part in coalition bombing missions for over a year.
He told the BBC: “They have been able to attack these terrorists on one side of the border. Now they are free to be able to attack some of their key targets on the other side of the border as well - a border that Daesh/Isil have never respected themselves.”
Asked about reports that six targets were hit, Mr Fallon said: “I approved yesterday a series of targets in the Omar oil field - wellheads from which the oil production is derived which helps to finance Daesh.
“All four Tornados have now successfully returned and we will be assessing later this morning the actual damage done. They were using Paveway munitions in an area of oil fields where there was simply oil infrastructure in eastern Syria, a long way from Raqqa itself, down near Iraq.
“It’s a very good illustration of a target that is literally one side of the border and couldn’t previously be attacked.”
Mr Fallon said the Tornadoes had been conducting sorties over Iraq on a nightly basis and were authorised to strike targets in Syria once the result of the Commons vote was known.
“What was really important about the vote last night was that it confirmed that Britain is a serious ally,” said Mr Fallon.
“We have come to the aid of France, who requested us to help with our RAF planes, we have responded to the call form the United Nations on all members of the United Nations to do something to suppress this terrorism and eradicate the safe haven that Daesh has.”
Asked whether the UK’s involvement in military action in Syria would make Britain a target, Mr Fallon told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “The sad news is we are already a target ... Britain is well up the hit-list for Daesh terrorists.
“We are already a target and we have got to do something about this now.”
Attacking IS’s oil facilities would deprive them of financing and undermine their operations in north-east Syria, “from where these threats to western Europe, these plots, are all being hatched and devised”, he said.
Following Wednesday’s divisions in Parliament, Mr Fallon said: “We ended up with a strong and very decisive vote in favour of action and I hope everybody now will rally round that action and support the RAF in their efforts to keep our country safe.”