The fight against Isis will be intensified with a sharp increase in SAS operations, drone missions and RAF strikes on militant forces in Iraq and Syria, David Cameron will signal today. The Prime Minister will stress his determination to step up military action amid fears that the jihadi group has become entrenched in the two states and is seeking to export its influence to other countries.
RAF Tornados and unarmed Reaper drones have flown more than 1,000 missions in Iraq and Syria and struck more than 300 targets in Iraq since September as part of a US-led coalition.
Mr Cameron has told military top brass he wants them to escalate the action in the two countries and to prioritise special forces and “counter-terrorist capabilities” in defence spending plans for the rest of the decade, to be published in the autumn.
SAS missions could be operated from Britain’s largest-ever warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth. The aircraft carrier, which will also be adapted to launch drone flights, is due to be launched next year.
Last week the Government promised to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence and the Prime Minister’s move makes clear that he wants much of the extra cash to be focused on combating the evolving threat from Islamist terrorism.
He will underline the commitment with a visit to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, the UK’s drone base, from where operators pilot unmanned aircraft located in Kuwait over Iraq and Syria.
The drones, flying at nearly 300 miles an hour at altitudes of up to 50,000ft, carry Hellfire missiles which destroy armoured vehicles.
The Prime Minister will also meet some of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s crew in Downing Street.
Speaking before the visit, he said the 2 per cent spending commitment had been driven by his determination to put Britain’s national security first. “Now we know how much we will spend, what matters next is how we spend it. I have tasked the defence and security chiefs to look specifically at how we do more to counter the threat posed by Isil [Isis] and Islamist extremism,” Mr Cameron said.
“This could include more spy planes, drones and special forces. In the last five years, I have seen just how vital these assets are in keeping us safe.”
Government sources said he wanted the armed forces to concentrate on countering the threat from an “increasingly aggressive” Russia as well as the danger of cyber attack.
Military engagement in Iraq was approved by the House of Commons last year, but David Cameron promised at the time to seek a second mandate from MPs if it was deemed necessary to extend the fight to Syria.
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, indicated this month that the Government wanted to return to the issue when he argued it was “illogical” to be launching strikes against Isis in Iraq but not in neighbouring Syria.
At the moment the UK is limited to reconnaissance flights and air-to-air refuelling over Syria, but the Government is seeking political support to extend direct military action to the country.
The Government has repeatedly made clear it is not contemplating deploying ground troops to Iraq or Syria, insisting local forces must take the lead in direct combat.
A total of 275 British military personnel are in Iraq in an advisory role to support the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities. Alarm is growing that Isis, which has attracted both Western fighters and “jihadi brides” to its self-declared “caliphate”, is inspiring militants across the Middle East and Africa.
US air strikes destroyed the leadership of an Afghan offshoot last week, while Isis militants have attempted to establish a foothold in Libya by exploiting the power vacuum. Seifeddine Rezgui, who murdered 30 British tourists in Tunisia last month, is understood to have trained at a camp run by the organisation in Libya.
Mr Cameron has taken the rare step of inviting the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman to attend a meeting of the National Security Council to consider the threat posed by Isis. It is expected to take place on 14 July.