My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Gavin Williamson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The House may welcome an update on the military campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Forces in Iraq and Syria now say that, with the support of the global Coalition, they have liberated all the towns and cities that were once occupied by Daesh. This is a huge achievement, and one in which UK forces should take great pride for the part they played in this success. The Global Coalition assesses there are currently not enough Daesh fighters remaining in Iraq and Syria to make any further significant territorial gains. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this is not the defeat of Daesh as an organisation. Daesh has dispersed into a cellular structure in order to maintain insurgency activity, planting improvised explosive devices, conducting extortion, kidnapping and mounting terrorist attacks. The UK, as a partner in the coalition, is committed to defeating this ongoing threat, in order to guarantee the lasting defeat of Daesh’s ambitions, to build on the stability of the region and protect our interests and our national security.
The UK has contributed sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to find, identify and enable the Coalition to degrade Daesh’s military capabilities, which is as crucial to the air campaign now as it was at Daesh’s territory height. ISR alone does not make a successful campaign, however; since the beginning of operations over Iraq and Syria, the UK’s Tornado, Typhoon and Reaper aircraft have released over 4,300 weapons against Daesh targets to reduce their military capabilities.
In 2015, the then-Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, committed to providing Parliament with UK airstrike numbers from the Coalition’s datasets to allow us to compare our contribution with other Coalition partners. This was a move away from using a UK dataset and methodology to calculate our airstrike contribution to the Counter-Daesh fight. Following the House of Commons Defence Committee’s request to provide a biannual breakdown of our air contribution to the Counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq and Syria, I have reviewed the method with which our contribution to the Coalition’s air campaign are calculated and from this decided to discontinue reporting on airstrikes, which can be interpreted differently each time they are viewed, to focus on reporting the number of actual weapon release events.
Under doctrine, an airstrike is one or more weapon releases against the same target by one or more aircraft. With this definition, two aircraft dropping weapons on the same target could be seen by one person as one airstrike, whilst being two airstrikes to another; we do not consider this a reliable method to report our contribution. Whereas, a weapon release event is the employment of a single weapon system, by a single airframe, at one time, against a single target. As such, a weapon release event will always be calculated and reported in the same way and cannot be misinterpreted.