By Jean Christou
Britain has offered France the use of RAF Akrotiri in the fight against the Islamic State, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.
“Today I’ve offered President Hollande the use of RAF Akrotiri for French aircraft engaged in counter-ISIL operations and additional assistance with air-to-air refuelling,” Cameron told reporters at a joint news conference in Paris with French President Francois Hollande.
But the British bases in Cyprus said later in the day that though RAF Akrotiri had been offered in support of French operations against IS, it would not be used for air strikes.
“The French will not be launching strikes from RAF Akrotiri against ISIL but it could be used if a diversionary runway is required for any reason,” a statement from the SBA said.
This offer, it added, comes under Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty and had been strongly supported by UK, Cyprus and French governments, the announcement added.
It quoted British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon as saying: “This offer is another demonstration of our solidarity with our French allies. It is right that we do all we can to help them hit ISIL harder. Meanwhile, we will continue to strike this vile organisation in Iraq and build the case for extending those strikes to Syria.”
Britain has been launching air strikes from Akrotiri on Islamic State targets in Iraq for over a year, using Tornado jets stationed on the island, and if Cameron is successful in making his case to the British parliament this week, the operations would be expanded to include Syria.
Cameron said in Paris that the UK parliament would have to agree to all-out air strikes and in the event he was successful, the first British bombing raids would begin within hours of a ‘yes’ vote. Britain’s newspapers on Sunday, carried headlines including: “Britain prepares for war”.
During his news conference in Paris, Cameron said the UK would “do all in our power to help our friend and ally France”. He said the two countries “face a shared threat”. He said Britain and France needed to do more to combat terrorism by stepping up efforts to share information and tackling the problem of returning foreign fighters. “It is clear that the world is coming together to tackle this evil terrorist threat. We have shown our firm resolve and together we will defeat this evil threat.”
Cameron said he firmly supported the French military action against IS in Syria, adding that he was convinced that Britain should follow suit. “Later this week I will set out in parliament our comprehensive strategy for tackling ISIL (Islamic State),” Cameron said.
Cameron is eager to avoid a repeat of 2013, when he lost a crunch parliamentary vote on air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. He also said that he would step up efforts to share intelligence with France and other European partners.
Hollande said France planned to intensify its air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria with its sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle getting into position on Monday for strikes.
“Our aircraft arriving in the region is mandated to launch strong strikes against IS,” he said. “This organisation is launching a war against us,” he added.
“We will intensify our strikes, we will choose the targets that yield the best possible damage against the terrorist army.”
Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides last week said Cyprus‘ facilities were available to France to fight Islamic State.
Kasoulides said there had been no request so far for assistance from France, but Nicosia would help if required. Cyprus has an air base in Paphos on the western coast of the island, which is already at the disposal of western powers for humanitarian missions or emergency landings.
Asked if Cyprus was willing to support launching missions from the island against Islamic State, Kasoulides, who was speaking at a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said: “We have not been asked about launching, but as you know, we have given all our support to the British bases launching from Cyprus.”
By Jean Christou