Sir Michael Fallon is Secretary of State for Defence and MP for Sevenoaks.
Last weekend I was in Iraq meeting ministers, military commanders, and British troops to mark the third anniversary of the campaign against Daesh.
Three years ago, Daesh was an hour from the gates of Baghdad. Today, the terrorists are being defeated. Their black flags have been torn down. They have been pushed out of three quarters of the territory they once held in Iraq. More than 2.7 million Iraqis have been freed from Daesh’s murderous rule.
Britain has made a major contribution to this success. We are playing the second biggest part, after the United States, in the Global Coalition’s military campaign in support of Iraqi forces. Today, 1,400 UK military personnel are deployed in the region, including 600 in Iraq. In Taji, one of four training camps where UK forces are based, I talked to our experts from 22 Engineering Regiment who are teaching local forces essential bridge-building skills to enable them to cross the Tigris and liberate territory. In Erbil, I spoke to UK troops from 2 Mercians providing training in infantry, counter-IED, and combat medical skills. In total, British forces have trained 60,000 Iraqis in battle winning skills.
As well as training local forces, the RAF has been flying day and night, striking Daesh, providing crucial battlefield surveillance, and providing refuelling for other nation’s aircraft. Our drones, Typhoons, and Tornados have flown 8,000 sorties conducing 1,600 strikes. In carrying out strikes, we do everything we can to minimise the risk of civilian casualties through rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of the RAF crews. Nonetheless, Daesh’s ruthless and inhuman behaviour, including the deliberate use of human shields, means we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present, particularly in the complex and congested urban environment within which we operate.
As Defence Secretary, I take this issue extremely seriously. I have assured Parliament that any allegations of civilian casualties caused by UK strikes will be rigorously investigated, and the findings made public.
Meanwhile, in Syria 1.4 million people have been liberated. Raqqa was the headquarters of Daesh’s external attack planning team where plots against our nation and the West were planned, directed, and inspired. In December 2015, in winning parliamentary support to extend operations to Daesh targets in Syria, we promised to cut off the head of the snake. We’ve kept our word – Raqqa will soon be cleared of Daesh. By depriving Daesh of their safe havens, striking their external attack teams, UK forces have helped stop attacks on our streets
After three years of fighting the evil of our time, it is right that we properly recognise our Armed Forces’ efforts. In Iraq I announced the award of a new operational service medal honouring those who have gone above and beyond in the fight against extremism. Our new medal recognises the contribution of around 3,600 personnel on the ground and in the air – where our airmen and women have maintained an operational intensity not seen for a quarter of a century.
Given the changing nature of warfare, I also want to look at how to provide medallic recognition for others who make a vital contribution beyond the battlespace – whether Reaper pilots taking life and death decisions or those who ensure our planes can strike Daesh targets.
Daesh is losing and now we must finish the job. The attacks Daesh inspired in Manchester and London remind us of the danger they pose.
My visit, the fifth since the campaign began, provided an opportunity to review plans with Lieutenant General Funk, the new Coalition Commander, for the next phase. This will see an increase in the tempo – rooting Daesh from Hawija, clearing them from the Euphrates River Valley, and removing them from Anbar Province. In support of military efforts, we will continue to discredit Daesh’s poisonous ideology, clamp down on its finances, prevent the flow of foreign fighters, and deny a safe space to terrorists on the battlefield or online.
The defeat of Daesh will ultimately depend on providing Iraq’s people with security and stability. The Iraqi Interior minister and I agreed on the importance of success in the military campaign being matched by a greater focus on stabilisation and reconstruction. Britain has been at the forefront of these efforts, providing over £200 million so far to help Iraqis return to their homes, help to rebuild, reopen schools, and restore clean water and power supplies.
Three years after we started, we can be proud of the military campaigns in Iraq and Syria. There remains much to do and we will stay the course. As Global Britain, we will continue fronting up to danger, supporting fragile democracies, and protecting our people and our values.