While Ministry of Defence corporate communicators are firing up to celebrate the RAF’s centenary, the main achievement of British airpower over the past three years has largely been ignored. In 2016, two years after the Commons voted to bomb Iraq, David Cameron said that what was known as Operation Shader would be more persistent and patient rather than ‘shock and awe’. By September 2016, over 1,000 RAF air strikes had been carried out over Iraq and Syria – at a sustained level of intensity of two pairs of attack jets flying six days a week.
British air attack has been sustained since 2016, against both Mosul and Raqqa to simultaneously undermine the Caliphate. Syria has been more complicated than Iraq with the abiding need to de-escalate tension with Russia. Notwithstanding the Boris-Sergei banter, there has long been a specific military hotline to explain the purpose of RAF deployments to the Russians and to deconflict with long-range Russian air activity. Each nation’s air campaign plan keeps to its respective side of the Euphrates. The priority is to work with Russia in domains where the Kremlin has greatest influence.
In the three years since Operation Shader began, British air power has made significant progress in helping free 5.5 million people from Daesh rule. And not one civilian casualty has been ‘collaterally damaged’ by British strike aircraft. Interestingly, this British air effort over Iraq and Syria has been ten times that mounted over Afghanistan, where British troops were lost in worrying numbers. But you wouldn’t know any of this from the official media gurus. Perhaps they realise that that the 2018 strategic question will be – where do we focus the intelligence stare next, Raqqa or Russia?
Introduction to this Under-reported series.
Summary guide to all under-reported articles in this series.