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Operation Shader
Part of 2014 military intervention against ISIL
HMS Defender Escorting USS George HW Bush MOD 45157996.jpg
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender (D36) escorts the American aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) through the Middle East during Operation Shader.
Location Northern Iraq (air attacks, advising, humanitarian aid), Northern Syria (surveillance)
Planned by United Kingdom David Cameron (PM)
United Kingdom Michael Fallon (Secretary of State for Defence)
Objective Destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[1]
Date 9 August - present
(6 years, 3 months, 2 weeks and 1 day)
Executed by Royal Air Force

Royal Navy
British Army

Outcome Ongoing
Casualties ISIL Casualties
  • See Airstrikes

United Kingdom United Kingdom Casualties

  • 2 aid workers executed
  • 1 journalist captured


Operation Shader is the code name given to the British participation in the ongoing 2014 military intervention against ISIL.[2] The operation began on 9 August 2014 as a humanitarian intervention, involving multiple aid drops and the airlifting of displaced refugees in Northern Iraq. As the crisis escalated, the Royal Air Force deployed six Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft and a Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft to provide aerial reconnaissance to Iraqi ground forces and Kurdish fighters. On 26 September, following a formal request for assistance by the Iraqi government, the British government authorized the British Armed Forces to participate in US-led airstrikes in Iraq.[3] On 21 October, the United Kingdom also confirmed surveillance flights over Syria.[4]

Background[edit | edit source]

The British action was as a reluctant response to the genocidal persecution of the Yazidi people of Iraq by ISIL, leading to their exile, abduction of their women and massacres, during what has been called a "forced conversion campaign"[5] in Northern Iraq by the militant organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Humanitarian response[edit | edit source]

Two Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules aircraft in Iraq, after being unloaded of vital humanitarian supplies on 9 September 2014.

Operation Shader began as a humanitarian intervention, providing essential aid to besieged minorities in Northern Iraq. The first British aid drops commenced on 9 August, when two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, dropped bundles of aid including 1,200 reusable water containers and 240 solar lanterns.[6][7][8] A second air drop commenced on 12 August but had to be aborted due to the risk of injury to civilians.[9] The aid drops resumed within 24 hours and two large consignments of aid were dropped over Mount Sinjar.[10] During the same day, the Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of six Tornado GR4 strike aircraft of No. 2 Squadron RAF to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to help coordinate aid drops using their LITENING III reconnaissance pods.[11] Four Chinook helicopters were also deployed alongside them to participate in any possible refugee rescue missions.[12] On the following day, on 13 August, two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft dropped a third round of humanitarian aid into Mount Sinjar.[13] This was followed by a fourth and final round on 14 August, bringing the total number of air drops committed by the RAF to seven.[14] The UK has since suspended its humanitarian aid airdrops, concluding that the humanitarian crisis in the area has improved.[15]

On 18 August, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon disclosed during an interview that members of the 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (2 YORKS) had been deployed on the ground in Irbil to help secure the area for a possible helicopter rescue mission. The battalion, which is currently the Cyprus-based Theatre Reserve Battalion (TRB) for Operation Herrick in Afghanistan, had left Irbil within 24 hours.[16]

Reconnaissance[edit | edit source]

On 16 August, following the suspension of humanitarian aid airdrops, Operation Shader began shifting its focus from humanitarian relief to reconnaissance. The Tornado GR4's which were previously used to help coordinate airdrops were now being used to gather vital intelligence for Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIL militants. The Ministry of Defence also confirmed rumours that an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft had been operating over the country.[17]

Airstrikes[edit | edit source]

On 26 September, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of British airstrikes in Iraq.[3] Shortly after the vote, the Royal Air Force began preparing its Tornado GR4's stationed in Cyprus for armed sorties.

Listed below are all the airstrikes British aircraft have conducted in support of Operation Shader to date.[18]

27 September 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft of No. 2 Squadron RAF took off from RAF Akrotiri armed with Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. The aircraft did not identify any targets requiring immediate air attack during their patrol, so instead gathered vital intelligence for coalition forces. Both aircraft were supported by a Voyager aerial refueling tanker.[19]
30 September 2014 The RAF conducted its first airstrike. A patrol of two Tornado GR4's were tasked with assisting Kurdish fighters under attack from Islamic militants in northwest Iraq. The Tornado patrol identified a heavy weapon position and then engaged it with a Paveway IV laser-guided bomb. Following the engagement, the patrol then identified a second target: an armed pickup truck - which it destroyed using a Brimstone air-to-surface missile.[20]
1 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft were tasked with providing aerial reconnaissance to Iraqi government forces west of Baghdad. The armed patrol observed a location suspected of being used as a command and control facility. Whilst on scene, the aircraft were able to identify ISIL activity. Four Brimstone missiles were used to conduct a precision attack on two vehicles.[21]
2 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft were tasked with providing vital air support to Peshmerga forces which were making an advance on ISIL positions. The aircraft engaged an armed pickup truck with a Paveway IV laser-guided bomb.
3 October 2014 Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deployment of a further two Tornado GR4 strike aircraft during a surprise visit to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.[22] It was also revealed during the same day that the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender (D36) had been assigned to protect USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) as she launched aircraft into Iraq and Syria.[23]
7 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft attacked a fortified building in Ramadi with a Paveway IV laser-guided bomb. The building was being used as a firing point to launch attacks on Iraqi ground forces by militants.
8 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft completed another round of airstrikes overnight in support of Iraqi ground forces.
12 October 2014 The U.S. Department of Defense announced that British and American aircraft had been involved in a series of airstrikes around Hīt, Kirkuk, and Ramadi, destroying armed pickup trucks and armoured personnel carriers.[24]
16 October 2014 The Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of MQ-9 Reapers to assist with surveillance over Iraq. In addition to surveillance, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed during a statement that "If strike operations are required then Reaper has the ability to complement the sorties RAF Tornados have already completed.".[25]
19 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft provided close air support to an Iraqi convoy south of Fallujah which had been under attack from militants. Two ISIL trucks were destroyed using Brimstone missiles.
20 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft were involved in an airstrike against an ISIL main battle tank near Ramadi. The aircraft engaged the tank using a Brimstone missile.
24 October 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft were involved in a coordinated coalition airstrike on a former Iraqi military base near Kirkuk, which had been taken over by militants and used as a logistics hub. The aircraft attacked the base using two Paveway IV laser-guided bombs.[26] The Ministry of Defence statement on the attacks also revealed that Reaper drones were supporting operations in the area.[27]
1 November 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft attacked and destroyed a heavily armed pickup truck belonging to Islamic State using a Brimstone missile.
3 November 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft attacked and destroyed an Islamic State armoured vehicle in Al Qaim, north-west of Baghdad. A Brimstone missile was used to conduct the attack.
4 November 2014 Two Tornado GR4 aircraft, flying in support of Iraqi ground forces near Bayji, north of Baghdad, attacked and destroyed an Islamic State pickup truck using a Brimstone missile.
9 November 2014 Two Tornado GR4's destroyed a shipping container which was being used by ISIL to support extortion in Al Anbar, west of Baghdad. A single Brimstone missile was used to conduct the attack.
10 November 2014 The first MQ-9 Reaper strike was conducted by the RAF in Bayji, north of Baghdad. The Reaper drone identified and attacked a group of ISIL militants which had been laying improvised explosive devices in the area. A single Hellfire air-to-surface missile was used to conduct the attack.
13 November 2014 The second MQ-9 Reaper strike was conducted in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. Whilst on a reconnaissance patrol, the Reaper drone identified multiple ISIL positions, including a command post, bunker, observation post and two armed pick-up trucks which were destroyed by coalition aircraft. A further three ISIL positions were then identified which the Reaper drone then destroyed using its own Hellfire missiles.

During the evening of the same day, an MQ-9 Reaper attacked and destroyed a dug-in ISIL machine gun position with a Hellfire missile in support of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The Reaper drone then identified further ISIL positions, which another coalition aircraft was then able to attack. Approaching the end of its patrol, the Reaper drone then identified an ISIL checkpoint on a road and destroyed it using a Hellfire missile. Elsewhere in Iraq, upon investigating possible ISIL activity in response to advancing Iraqi forces, another MQ-9 Reaper drone identified several ISIL fighters boarding a truck. Despite the vehicle travelling at high speed, the Reaper was able to hit it with a Hellfire missile.

15 November 2014 Supported by a Voyager aerial refueling tanker, a patrol of two Tornado GR4's conducted an armed reconnaissance patrol over western and northern Iraq. In the western desert, the aircraft were tasked to destroy a communications vehicle which coalition aircraft had previously identified. The patrol destroyed the vehicle using a single Brimstone missile. The Tornado's were then called north to the Mosul area to support Peshmerga fighters which were under intense fire from ISIL heavy weapons. Several Paveway IV laser-guided bombs were used to destroy a mortar and multiple heavy weapon positions, as well as a bulldozer which ISIL was using to construct defences in the area.
19 November 2014 RAF aircraft participated in a major coordinated coalition airstrike on a network of underground bunkers and tunnels used by ISIL. Tornado GR4's were put into action with their Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, alongside coalition aircraft from seven different nations, including Australia, Canada, France and the United States.

Elsewhere in Iraq, an MQ-9 Reaper destroyed a bulldozer being used by ISIL to halt an Iraqi advance. The attack was carried out using a Hellfire missile.

20 November 2014 RAF aircraft provided support to Iraqi ground forces which were countering ISIL activity in the vicinity of the Bayji oil refinery, north of Baghdad. A Tornado GR4 attacked three buildings occupied by ISIL militants in a compound nearby, using three Paveway IV laser-guided bombs.

Meanwhile, an MQ-9 Reaper attacked and destroyed three ISIL vehicles with Hellfire missiles elsewhere in Iraq.

Deployed forces[edit | edit source]

British Army[edit | edit source]

Royal Air Force[edit | edit source]

Royal Navy[edit | edit source]

Tri-Service[edit | edit source]

Intervention in Syria[edit | edit source]

Although the House of Commons has only authorised airstrikes in Iraq, Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that there is also a "strong case" for airstrikes in Syria. He went on to state that any extension of airstrikes from Iraq into Syria would require another House of Commons vote, unless it was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.[38]

On 21 October, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that RC-135 Rivet Joint and MQ-9 Reaper surveillance flights were occurring over Syria.[4]

Politics[edit | edit source]

British airstrikes in Iraq received overwhelming support from the House of Commons. During the vote on airstrikes on 26 September, the House of Commons voted 524 in favour and 43 against.[3] Nevertheless there was criticism of the vote; Mrs. Rushanara Ali, Labour Party member of the British Parliament (House of Commons) said she would not vote in favour of British involvement in air strikes against ISIS but abstain her vote, because she was concerned – while acknowledging the "horrific and barbaric" actions of ISIS – that such British military action would create further bloodshed in Iraq. In her resignation letter to Labour leader Ed Miliband as shadow minister, Mrs. Rushanara, Bangladesh-born and Muslim, wrote that "there is a genuine belief in Muslim and non-Muslim communities that military action will only create further bloodshed and further pain for the people of Iraq". She added that she had 'no confidence' that the potential impact of such military action on radicalisation in the UK had been properly thought through.[39][40]

On 2 October, some British jihadists threatened an "imminent" terror attack on the UK in revenge of British airstrikes on ISIL in Iraq.[41]

On 3 October, the Iraq III No! anti-war activists, left-wing agitators and ISIL sympathisers rallied in Central London to protest against British airstrikes on ISIL in Iraq.[42]

Manchester's leading Muslims condemned the murder of British aid convoy volunteer Alan Henning. Naved Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain said there were "very clear distinctions" between the jihadists and ordinary Muslims on 4 October.[43]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Actions to counter ISIL". Ministry of Defence. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/isil-uk-government-response. Retrieved 7 November 2014. "We are working closely with our allies to drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL and what it stands for. We will defeat ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy." 
  2. "Islamic State air strikes: RAF launches Operation Shader". BBC News. 26 September 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29383943. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq". BBC News. 26 September 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29385123. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Surveillance missions over Syria confirmed". Ministry of Defence. 21 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/surveillance-missions-over-syria-confirmed. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  5. Arraf, Jane (7 August 2014). "Islamic State persecution of Yazidi minority amounts to genocide, UN says". Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. http://web.archive.org/web/20140808154839/http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2014/0807/Islamic-State-persecution-of-Yazidi-minority-amounts-to-genocide-UN-says-video. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  6. "UK planes to drop emergency aid to Iraqi refugees". BBC News. 9 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28701642. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  7. "What is the UK's military commitment in Iraq?". 18 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28835597. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "First to arrive were RAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport planes [...] which have been dropping emergency supplies [...] to civilians left stranded by the conflict. The first one was completed on 9 August." 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Iraq aid drops to 'step up', says No 10". BBC News. 10 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28732992. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "Two British C130 cargo planes were involved in dropping off the first batch of supplies. [...] The bundle included 1,200 reusable water containers and 240 solar lanterns that can also recharge mobile phones." 
  9. "Iraq crisis: RAF aborts air drop amid safety fears". BBC News. 11 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28736342. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  10. "RAF planes make second aid drop in northern Iraq". BBC News. 12 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28751958. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Tornados ready to support humanitarian operations". Ministry of Defence. 12 August 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tornados-ready-to-support-humanitarian-operations. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "RAF Tornado jets in Cyprus for Iraq aid mission". BBC News. 12 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28758370. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "A "small number" of Chinook helicopters would also be sent for "further relief options", the Foreign Office said." 
  13. "UK steps up aid for Northern Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 13 August 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-steps-up-aid-for-northern-iraq. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  14. "New UK aid supplies delivered to Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 14 August 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-uk-aid-supplies-delivered-to-iraq. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "Over four nights, the UK has successfully delivered a total of seven air drops of clean water, shelter and solar lamps with mobile phone chargers to help thousands of displaced Iraqi people." 
  15. "Iraq crisis: PM calls off aid air drops as ‘desperate’ situation is made safe". Independent. 14 August 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-crisis-pm-calls-off-aid-air-drops-as-desperate-situation-is-made-safe-9670035.html. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "David Cameron defends 'clear' Iraq strategy". BBC News. 18 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28831248. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "Troops from the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire regiment had been sent into the Kurdish capital Irbil for 24 hours to prepare the ground for a possible rescue mission by the helicopters." 
  17. "Iraq: 'Secret' Surveillance Flights Revealed". Sky News. 16 August 2014. http://news.sky.com/story/1319633/iraq-secret-surveillance-flights-revealed. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  18. "LATEST: air strikes in Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 20 November 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/latest-iraq-air-strikes. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  19. "RAF Tornado jets ready for attack role over Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 27 September 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/raf-tornado-jets-fly-ready-for-attack-role-over-iraq. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  20. "RAF conducts first air strikes of Iraq mission". Ministry of Defence. 30 September 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/raf-conducts-first-air-strikes-of-iraq-mission--2. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  21. "RAF Tornados' second air strikes in Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 1 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/raf-tornados-second-air-strikes-in-iraq. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  22. "PM announces Tornado deployment". Ministry of Defence. 3 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-announces-tornado-deployment. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 "HMS Defender supports operations against ISIL in the middle east". Royal Navy. 3 October 2014. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2014/october/03/141003-hms-defender-supports-operations-against-isil-in-the-middle-east. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  24. "U.S. Military, Partners Continue Airstrikes Against ISIL". U.S. Department of Defense. 12 October 2014. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=123394. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "UK deploys Reaper to the Middle East". Ministry of Defence. 16 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-deploys-reaper-to-the-middle-east. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  26. "LATEST: air strikes in Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 24 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/latest-iraq-air-strikes. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  27. "LATEST: air strikes in Iraq". Ministry of Defence. 24 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/latest-iraq-air-strikes. Retrieved 24 October 2014. "Other RAF aircraft, including Voyager refuelling tankers, and Rivet Joint and Reaper surveillance platforms, also continue to support coalition air operations." 
  28. "UK troops training Kurdish forces in Iraq, says MoD". BBC NEWS. 12 October 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29586437. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  29. "UK to provide further support to forces fighting ISIL". Ministry of Defence. 5 November 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-to-provide-further-support-to-forces-fighting-isil. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  30. "PM announces Tornado deployment". Ministry of Defence. 3 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-announces-tornado-deployment. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "David Cameron announced the deployment of 2 additional Tornados as part of the operation to tackle the ISIL threat in Iraq." 
  31. "RAF Reapers to double surveillance of Islamic State militants". Flightglobal. 7 November 2014. http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/raf-reapers-to-double-surveillance-of-islamic-state-405738/. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  32. "RAF Delivers Military Support to Iraq". Royal Air Force. 1 September 2014. http://www.raf.mod.uk/news/archive/raf-delivers-military-support-to-iraq-01092014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "RAF C-17 aircraft have also transported a range of non-lethal support, to be gifted by the UK to Iraq, to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus which will be transported on to the Kurdish forces." 
  33. "Personnel in Cyprus assist in aid air drops". Ministry of Defence. 16 August 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/service-personnel-in-cyprus-assist-in-aid-air-drops. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "Also supporting the humanitarian mission is the recent deployment of the Rivet Joint intelligence-gathering aircraft, providing operational and tactical-level intelligence." 
  34. "What is the UK's military commitment in Iraq?". BBC News. 18 August 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28835597. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  35. "PM confirms additional measures in support of operations against ISIL". Ministry of Defence. 3 October 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-confirms-additional-measures-in-support-of-operations-against-isil. Retrieved 7 October 2014. "The Royal Navy has also been participating in a support role in the Middle East with warship HMS Defender having been in the Gulf since June" 
  36. Nichols, Tristan (26 September 2014). "Royal Navy attack sub already deployed off coast of Iraq". The Herald. http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Royal-Navy-attack-sub-deployed-coast-Iraq/story-23005925-detail/story.html. Retrieved 4 October 2014. "Oliver Colvile, Tory MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, tabled a question to the Deputy Prime Minister asking about the likelihood of Royal Navy involvement in the campaign. “He said there was already a submarine in the Persian Gulf,” Mr Colvile told The Herald." 
  37. "British special forces join fighters on Isil front line". Telegraph. 30 September 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11131948/British-special-forces-join-fighters-on-Isil-front-line.html. Retrieved 4 October 2014. "SAS and American special forces are working with Kurdish fighters on the Iraqi front lines as part of a major offensive to push Isil jihadists back and relieve pressure on the besieged Syria town of Kobane, senior Kurdish military officers have disclosed." 
  38. "Cameron: IS threat may require Syria intervention". BBC News. 26 September 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29366007. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  39. 'As it happened: Commons debate on Iraq airstrikes'. The Times, 26 September 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  40. 'Rushanara Ali resigns as shadow education minister over vote on Iraq military action'. Bdnews24.com, 26 September 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  41. "British jihadists threaten ‘imminent’ terror attack to avenge UK airstrikes". RT. http://rt.com/uk/192604-british-jihadists-terror-threat/. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  42. "‘Iraq III No!’ Anti-war activists call London protest against UK airstrikes". RT. http://rt.com/uk/192976-stop-isis-war-protest/. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  43. "Muslims Say Beheadings Are An Insult To Islam". Sky News. 4 October 2014. http://news.sky.com/story/1347338/muslims-say-beheadings-are-an-insult-to-islam. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 

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