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David Cameron vows to 'beef up' SAS and double drone numbers

Published 03/10/2015

Philip Hammond said the British people would deliver
Philip Hammond said the British people would deliver "a raspberry" to the Government if David Cameron's EU reform negotiations do not secure robust changes

David Cameron has vowed to "beef up" the SAS and double the number of British drones to combat Islamic State (IS) militants as he sought to put defence and security at the heart of the Tory conference agenda.

The Prime Minister said investment in special forces and surveillance was essential to meeting the terrorist threat facing the UK.

He told the Sunday Telegraph that the UK will buy a fleet of 20 new Protector drones capable of targeting IS extremists in Iraq and Syria.

In an interview with the newspaper as the Tories gathered in Manchester, Mr Cameron said: "One of the biggest threats we have to respond to is that terrorist threat and that means a lot of things in terms of obviously domestic security and our intelligence services.

"But it also means making sure that we have the military equipment and resources we need - so seeing an enhancement of our Special Forces and particularly on the issue of surveillance aircraft."

The newspaper reported that the Prime Minister made clear that more jihadists operating in Syria who are believed to be on a B ritish "kill list" will be targeted by the drones as a "last resort".

The focus on defence comes after the end of Labour's conference was overshadowed by a row over Jeremy Corbyn's support for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Mr Cameron's arrival in Manchester for the first autumn conference of a majority Tory administration since 1996 came amid protests at the Government's continued austerity measures.

Outside the secure zone surrounding the Midland Hotel and Manchester Central conference centre, a handful of demonstrators staged a noisy protest.

Thousands of protesters are expected to take part in a march on Sunday as the conference formally opens, while Labour leader Mr Corbyn is expected to address a public meeting in Manchester on Monday.

Mr Cameron said he believe it "may well become possible" to win a Commons vote in favour of extending the RAF's bombing campaign into Syria by relying on the votes of Labour MPs despite Mr Corbyn's opposition.

The Prime Minister, who has said he will seek a Commons vote unless he is sure there is a "consensus" for action, said: "I think it's the right thing to do. I think it may well become possible but you know we will continue doing what we're doing until it does."

Setting out the new drones being made available to deal with IS, Mr Cameron told the Sunday Telegraph : "We have at the moment a drone fleet of 10 Reapers and what we are going to be doing is actually replacing that with twice as many with a new updated piece of equipment - called Protector - which will be more than doubling our fleet to keep us safe and to give us the intelligence and information and potentially give us the capacity to hit people who are potentially planning to hit us."

Asked whether there would be more missions in Syria targeting British jihadists, following the strike which killed Britons Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, Mr Cameron said: " It's obviously a last resort. It's only the right thing to do if there are no other avenues you can take.

"What we try to do is stop people travelling to these regions, confiscate their passports, work with local government to have them arrested or detained. We try and take every step we can but at the end of the day we have to keep the British people safe from terrorist threats."

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