Britain will soon deploy drones and spy planes to carry out surveillance over Syria. The move signals an expansion of the UK's operations against "Islamic State" militants beyond Iraq.
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said Tuesday that British Reaper drones and Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft would be starting intelligence-gathering missions in Syria "very shortly."
Fallon last week announced that Britain planned to deploy armed drones across the Middle East, and that the aircraft would be used to bomb "Islamic State" (IS) targets in Iraq. Now, these same machines will also be flying over Syria to "gather intelligence" as part of efforts "to protect our national security from the terrorist threat emanating from there," the minister said.
In a written statement to parliament, Fallon stressed the drones weren't authorized to use their weapons, saying "further permission" would be required before armed operations in Syria could go ahead.
Britain's parliament has given approval for the country's Tornado jets to join a US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against IS militants in Iraq, but not for operations in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said he would return to parliament to seek permission for action in Syria if it became necessary.
IS has declared an Islamic caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, after seizing a significant amount of territory in both countries over the past months.
Battle goes on in Kobani
The British announcement cames after Turkey said on Monday it would allow Kurdish fighters from Iraq to reinforce fellow Kurds who are trying to push IS out of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, on the Syrian-Turkish border. The town has been a key focus of battles between IS and Kurdish forces in recent weeks, and if the militants succeed in seizing the city, it would give them control over a large stretch of land along Turkey's border.
Kurdish forces defending the border town came under renewed attack from the jihadists on Tuesday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The onslaught, which intensified late Monday and included suicide bombers, appeared to be an attempt to cut off the border with Turkey before the Kurdish reinforcements could arrive.
Warplanes belonging to the US-led coalition have so far carried out more than 120 airstrikes against IS in and around Kobani. At the start of the week, three US planes dropped several bundles of supplies, including weapons from Kurdish authorities in Iraq, to help Peshmerga fighters defending the city.
nm/glb (Reuters, AP, AFP)