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British drones attack IS militants

British forces conducted their first drone attacks on Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq over the weekend, the Ministry of Defence has said.

A series of coalition missions were conducted near Bayji, north of Baghdad, where IS extremists were planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The MoD said an unmanned aircraft known as a Royal Air Force Reaper "successfully attacked the terrorists using a Hellfire missile".

On Sunday morning, an RAF aircraft also destroyed a shipping container near Al Anbar, west of Baghdad.

The MoD said the container was "used by the terrorists to store equipment to support extortion and control of the local population".

The strike comes after Britain announced it is stepping up its military presence in Iraq, where it is helping local forces in the battle against IS militants.

The jihadists, who are also known as ISIL and ISIS, contro l large swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria where they are waging war with the aim of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

The Reaper drones are also being used to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance to help manned aircrafts conducting further strikes.

Reapers are remotely controlled by pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

They carry high-tech sensors which allow them to spy on insurgent activity for hours at a time and at a range where they are undetectable from the ground.

The MoD said: "A series of coalition missions were conducted near Bayji, north of Baghdad, where ISIL terrorists were laying improvised explosive devices.

"The Reaper RPAS, using procedures identical to those of manned aircraft, successfully attacked the terrorists using a Hellfire missile.

"UK Reaper continued to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance to coalition aircraft which enabled them to conduct further strikes."

More details about the extent of Britain's airstrikes against the jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria have also been released.

The MoD said that last week RAF Tornado GR4s used Brimstone precision guided missiles to destroy IS armed pick-up trucks.

While other RAF aircraft, including tankers, transport and surveillance platforms also continue to support coalition air operations.

Last month RAF Tornadoes were involved in several air strikes against the militants, including bombing a former Iraqi military base which IS was using as a logistics hub for operations.

British planes have also carried out precision attacks on IS forces firing on Iraqi troops, and destroyed a battle tank and trucks used by the extremists.

Around 40 countries have agreed to contribute to the fight against IS militants.

The UK has joined the airstrikes and sent in troops to help train Iraqi soldiers, but the Government has repeatedly stressed it will not be "dragged into a war in Iraq" and there will be no British troops on the ground.

However, terrorism experts said the airstrikes could mean it is "only a matter of time" before British troops are sent back into Iraq.

Dr Natasha Underhill, an expert on terrorism in the Middle East at Nottingham Trent University, said: "It was only a matter of time before the UK forces would play a direct role in the context of drone airstrikes.

"The shift from reconnaissance to direct military targeting and strikes means that there is now no turning back.

"It also highlights the ongoing significance of the threat from ISIS. The increasing involvement by the UK in military action such as the drone strikes shows that the threat is nowhere near an end.

"It may now only be a matter of time before we see the re-introduction of troops into Iraq."

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