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Britain extends service of Tornado fighter bomber in Iraq until 2017

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the GR4 Tornado fighter bomber had proved its worth during airstrikes and surveillance missions against the Islamic State.

By Fred Lambert
Britain extends service of Tornado fighter bomber in Iraq until 2017
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 on return to RAF Akrotiri Cyprus after an armed reconnaissance mission over Iraq. Britain's defense secretary on August 4, 2015, announced the squadron of Tornados in Cyprus would not be disbanded and replaced by a squadron of Eurofighter Typhoons, but would instead continue operations against Islamic State forces in Iraq until March 2017. Photo by British Ministry of Defense

BAGHDAD, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Britain is extending by a more than a year the service of the GR4 Tornado fighter bomber in operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon made the announcement during a visit to Baghdad Tuesday.

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The BBC quoted Fallon as saying Squadron 12, based in Cyprus and made up of eight Tornados that were due to be retired last March, will continue in its current role until March 2017.

In service for 30 years, the GR4 Tornado has seen action in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.

The jets had been scheduled to be replaced with a squadron of Eurofighter Typhoons, but Prime Minister David Cameron last year extended their service to March 2016 after the jets performed their first sorties against IS forces.

Fallon said the jets were providing "the essential precision firepower, intelligence and surveillance" for the operations against IS forces, and that they had "proved their worth" during airstrikes and by carrying out 30 percent of the coalition's surveillance missions.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner pointed out, however, that Britain's contribution to overall airstrikes against IS positions in Iraq has been less than 5 percent.

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The United Kingdom joins Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, and the Netherlands as a member of the U.S.-led coalition bombing IS forces in Iraq, known as Operation Inherent Resolve.

U.S. Central Command reports the coalition conducted airstrikes on 21 IS positions in Iraq on Sunday.

U.S. officials late last month said the coalition had killed an estimated 15,000 IS fighters with more than 5,500 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August of last year.

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