Dozens of RAF pilots and ground crew are on standby to start launching expanded airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria from Cyprus, The Times reported on Tuesday.
According to the paper, British Prime Minister David Cameron would double the number of fast jets making bombing raids in the Middle East from RAF Akrotiri once he secures the support of MPs to extend Britain’s air war.
Within hours of a “yes” vote, two Tornado GR4 fighter-bombers and six Eurofighter Typhoons will fly from Britain to RAF Akrotiri, to join the eight Tornados already flying day and night missions in pairs against the extremist group in Iraq, it added.
“There will be the vote and then [if parliament approves widening combat operations into Syria] the order to move,” a defence source told The Times.
About 120 airmen, comprising pilots, navigators for the Tornado jets and ground staff, have been put on a reduced notice to move in anticipation of the vote. They will add to some 450 British military personnel already at RAF Akrotiri taking part in Operation Shader, the mission against ISIS, the paper said.
It added that in recent days, Tornado crews with experience of flying against ISIS in Iraq had been briefing Typhoon colleagues.
“If an order to move is given, the sight of eight fast jets taking off from Britain for Cyprus will be the most obvious visual indication of Britain’s expanded role within the US-led coalition,” said The Times article.
But it added that the Tornado jets at RAF Akrotiri were better positioned to conduct the first airstrikes in Syria. The UK also has ten Reaper drones, conducting surveillance missions over both Iraq and Syria from a base in Kuwait, carrying Hellfire missiles. These could also strike at ISIS within minutes of a green light to do so.
According to the Press Association, Cameron said there was “growing support” across Parliament to intervene against ISIS.
“It is in the national interest, it is the right thing to do, we will be acting with our allies, we will be careful and responsible as we do so, but in my view it s the right thing to do this to keep our country safe,” he said. Cameron will formally seek the backing of senior colleagues for his strategy at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PA said.