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IS campaign 'to take a long time'

Driving out Islamic State (IS) militants will not be a "weekend campaign", Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned, after the first combat sorties by RAF warplanes over Iraq failed to locate any suitable targets to strike.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the third mission to be carried out by Tornado GR4 fighter bombers since they were given the green light to commence air strikes had ended with them returning to their base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus with their weapons payloads intact.

Mr Fallon warned that such operations could continue for weeks or even months. "This is not a weekend campaign," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend. "This is going to take a long time."

In the face of growing criticism from former senior military commanders, David Cameron insisted that there was a "comprehensive strategy" in place for defeating IS - also referred to as Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) - which has seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The Prime Minister said he had "a lot of sympathy" for calls to extend British operations into Syria as well as Iraq, but had been constrained by the need to maintain a political consensus for UK military action.

Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, a former head of the armed forces who stepped down as chief of the defence staff last year, became the most senior figure to speak out when he said that the militants would not be defeated by air attacks alone and that Western ground troops would be needed.

"Ultimately you need a land army to achieve the objectives we've set ourselves - all air will do is destroy elements of IS, it won't achieve our strategic goal," he told The Sunday Times .

"The only way to defeat IS is to take back land they are occupying which means a conventional military operation.

"The only way to do it effectively is to use western armies, but I understand the political resistance."

Speaking on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron accepted that "boots on the ground" were needed but said they had to be local Iraqi and Kurdish forces, not British.

He added: "We are part of a large international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy this organisation. But it can't be done unless the countries where this organisation has grown up play their part in destroying it.

"But if what you are saying is that we need an uprising of the Sunni tribes, rejecting these extremists and saying 'we want to be part of a democratic pluralistic Iraq', then yes, of course we do need that.

"Our strategy here is not some simplistic 'drop a bomb from 40,000 feet' and think you can solve the problem.

"This is one part of a comprehensive strategy to build an Iraq that has a democratic, inclusive government for everyone and, in time, Syria needs exactly the same thing."

Mr Fallon said ultimately IS had to be defeated in Syria and that the Government would keep open the option of returning to Parliament to seek permission to extend air strikes into the country.

"Isil is based in Syria, it has been attacking Iraq from Syria and it needs to be defeated in Syria as well as Iraq," he told Sky's Murnaghan programme.

"The Americans are there with their air strikes, the other Gulf nations have come in as well to help them, obviously we shall have to keep under review whether we should be there too."

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