RAF Iraq missions: 'No panic' to start bombing

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Media captionPhilip Hammond says the UK will not be "panicked into dropping bombs all over the place" as it targets Islamic State

Britain will not be "panicked" into dropping bombs in Iraq by reports that militants are advancing, the foreign secretary has said.

Philip Hammond said the RAF would not bomb "all over the place", but would carefully target Islamic State (IS).

He confirmed UK jets had flown two more combat sorties over Iraq but said no weapons had been used.

Reconnaissance missions have been under way for about six weeks, but on Friday Parliament approved air strikes.

Mr Hammond told the BBC's Daily Politics: "They [RAF jets] haven't yet attacked a target, because there is a process going on of surveillance, gathering intelligence data, synthesising that, establishing pattern of life."

Image copyright MOD
Image caption British Tornado jets have been flying missions over Iraq from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus

He said weapons would not be fired unless British forces were "absolutely sure" they had identified IS targets and not civilians.

"Otherwise we are having the opposite of the effect we are intending to have," he said.

By Tuesday, Tornado jets had flown at least five missions over Iraq from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and returned without firing weapons.

'Confident' on Baghdad

There have been reports of fierce fighting near Baghdad in recent days, with militants reportedly less than six miles (10km) from the city in some areas.

But Mr Hammond said there was a difference between the capital itself and Baghdad province.

"Baghdad is well defended and we are confident about that," he said.

Fighting has also been reported on both sides of a key border crossing between Iraq and Syria.

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Image caption Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are among those fighting against IS

Mr Hammond was asked if the government had been advised that it might be legal under international law to extend military operations to attack IS in Syria.

"There is advice that there is a credible legal basis for action in Syria based on the principle of collective self-defence under the UN Charter," he said.

"We will look at the case for extending British activity into Syria."

He said if the government wanted to take military action in Syria it would "go back to Parliament" for approval.

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Image caption IS has released a third video showing British hostage John Cantlie

Responding to a comment that the French military had more combat squadrons than the UK, Mr Hammond said: "There is nobody who knows anything about air power who is suggesting that the French Air Force is a more formidable force than the RAF.

"It is not just about how many formations you have, it is about the training of your people, it is about the capability of your equipment, it is about the structure and the organisation."

British hostages

Mr Hammond also said he did not "particularly regret" saying in an interview earlier this month that Britain did not know where UK hostage Alan Henning was being held.

He said IS would "probably would work out that we don't know or we would have done something about it".

But he did not reveal what security services know now, saying that his previous comment was made two weeks ago and "situations can change".

Mr Henning, a taxi driver from Eccles in Salford, was seized while on an aid mission to Syria in December.

In an IS video showing the killing of British aid worker David Haines, militants threatened to kill Mr Henning.

Meanwhile, a third video has been released showing British journalist John Cantlie, another IS hostage.

In the latest video, posted online, Mr Cantlie reads scripts that criticise the American strategy in Iraq.