Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents obtained by UK human rights group Reprieve on Friday indicate that British air forces have been covertly involved in military airstrikes over Syria for quite some time.
This revelation makes “current debate over whether Britain should carry out such strikes somewhat obsolete,” staff lawyer at Reprieve Jennifer Gibson said in a statement on Friday.
“It is alarming that Parliament and the public have been kept in the dark about this for so long,” she added.
An extract from the MoD response to Reprieve’s FOI request says: “UK military personnel embedded with the USA, French and Canadian armed forces have been authorized to deploy with their units to participate in coalition operations against ISIL [Islamic State].
“These personnel include pilots flying ISR and Strike missions against ISIL targets using the equipment of those units. Of these three nations only the USA and Canada are operating in Syrian airspace.”
The admission says that “UK Embeds operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of command,” bringing into question the legal basis from UK personnel’s apparently long-running involvement in airstrikes on Syria.
The revelations have created immediate dissent in the government, with Tory MP John Barron telling the BBC that Parliament had said “no to military intervention.“
“Those troops or individuals should be withdrawn from the embedded program whilst this vote holds sway, while it stills hold authority, until we vote again.”
While the UK has been involved in airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq since September 2014, UK MPs voted against military intervention in crisis-ridden Syria in August 2013. The outcome of the vote caused considerable embarrassment to Prime Minister David Cameron, who openly backed the move.
Responding to a question put by then-Labour Leader Ed Miliband at the time, Cameron vowed to seek another vote before extending combat operations to Syria.
Following June’s terror massacre in Tunisia which left 30 British tourists dead, senior political and military figures in the UK have once again started to push for airstrikes in Syria. In 2013, Britain’s proposed military intervention in the war-torn state was aimed at overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad. Recent debate on UK airstrikes in the region has focused on obliterating IS militants operating there.
UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently said the extension of British bombing operations to Syria was a logical move. Speaking at an airpower conference held in London on Thursday, he compared IS to Nazi fascists from the 1940s.
The Labour party has called for an explanation from the MoD by Monday morning.