British Tornado bombers have conducted their first air strike in Syria under the British flag barely hours after parliament gave its stamp of approval for the UK to widen its target area to include Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria. Four Tornado bombers based in Cyprus were seen leaving the airbase a few hours ago.
It is believed that the target for the British airstrikes was an oil field in the east of Syria. Further details of the targets in Syria are expected to be revealed by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in a few hours.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence has confirmed RAF Tornados have just returned from their "first offensive operation over Syria and have conducted strikes." Four Tournado GR4s jets left in pairs within an hour of each other from the RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on Thursday (3 December).
At that time, their destination was not known and there was no comment from British authorities. However Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond did say that RAF jets and drones were ready to launch air strikes "very quickly."
News reports say that two Tornados returning to the Cyprus base were "missing three Paveway bombs each. Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall said the first missions were launched "barely an hour" after Parliament voted in favour of the air strikes. It was noted by reporters based at the Cyprus airbase that the first jets have been airborne for "just over three hours".
"This is a show of intent from the government," Bunkall said in his report. "Clearly they had some pre-planned targets ready to go if the vote was yes ... they did not want to hang around."
RAF Akrotiri has been used as a launchpad for attacks on Isis targets in Iraq for just over a year. Late Wednesday night, after more than 10 hours of debate, the UK Parliament widened the target area to cover Isis bases in Syria.
Cyprus, which is about 100 km away from Syria, is the closest European member state to the war-ravaged Middle east country. The UK has two sovereign military bases in Cyprus.
Sky News earlier reported that two RAF Tornado jets had taken off from Cyprus for the "operating area" on 2 December. The aircraft carry a range of ammunition, including Paveway IV guided bombs and precision guided Brimstone missiles.
The Parliament approval to carry out air strikes in Syria on Wednesday was heavily criticised by the Scottish National Party which voted against the air strikes. SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: "Scotland has been dragged into a war with no exit strategy."
He said: "Tonight [2 December] the UK parliament gave the green light to continue a complex and deadly conflict without a comprehensive plan for peace and reconstruction. Despite 72% of Scots being opposed, and the vast majority of Scottish MPs voting against, we will likely see planes deployed from Lossiemouth to drop bombs on the region."
Robertson added: "We are all committed to destroying Daesh [another name for Isis] - it is about how best we do that. David Cameron has neither answered the questions about where the 70,000 ground forces are coming from, or given an insight into any plan on how to stabilise and rebuild the region."
An extra 120 aircrew, including pilots, engineers and logisticians, will fly to Cyprus to boost the 450-strong team that is already conducting air campaigns in Iraq. A further six Typhoon jets will join the eight Tornado jets at the Cyprus base.
Germany's parliament is also expected to vote on Friday (4 December) in favour of joining the US-led campaign against Isis. It is seeking to provide only military support for air strikes and not actually participate in the strikes.