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RAF jets blast IS for first time

British jets have launched strikes against Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq for the first time, it has been announced.

RAF Tornadoes successfully destroyed a heavy weapons post and vehicle with a mounted machinegun in support of Kurdish troops, the Ministry of Defence said.

The attacks came as the fighters flew their sixth sortie since Parliament authorised UK involvement in the international military campaign last week.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: " I can confirm that the RAF were in action today in support of the Iraqi government in north west Iraq.

"Two GR4 Tornados from RAF Akrotiri were tasked to assist Kurdish troops who were under attack by Isil terrorists.

"They identified and attacked a heavy weapon position that was endangering Kurdish forces and they subsequently attacked an Isil armed pickup truck in the same area.

"Both Tornados have now returned safely to their base, and initial assessment is that both attacks were successful."

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that UK forces would not be "panicked" into dropping bombs in Iraq by reports of gains by Islamic State (IS) troops.

"When we do release our weapons we have to be absolutely sure that they are against Isil (IS) targets, that they are not going to kill innocent Sunni Muslim civilians in areas that are occupied by Isil," he told the BBC's Daily Politics.

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

Mr Hammond said he did not believe it was correct to suggest that IS forces had advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad - stressing that there was a difference between the capital itself and Baghdad province.

"Baghdad is well defended and we are confident about that. We will do this properly," he said.

"We are not going to be panicked into just dropping bombs all over the place because somebody's reporting a movement (of IS forces).

"We have to make sure that we identify the enemy, we monitor their movements so we know where they are, and then we attack precisely the targets that we need to attack."

The Foreign Secretary risked infuriating the French - who have committed more fighter jets to the campaign against IS - by dismissing the idea that their air force has the same capabilities as the RAF.

"If there is an air force in the world that can carry out this task while minimising the risk of civilian casualties and the risk of collateral damage, the RAF is the air force," he 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."

Mr Hammond said he did not "particularly regret" admitting during an interview earlier this month that Britain had "no idea" where IS were holding foreign hostages.

"I think they probably would work out that we don't know or we would have done something about it," he said.

However, he also appeared to suggest that the position may have altered since then - saying merely that it "was the truth" at the time.

"I made that comment over two weeks ago and situations can change," he said.

"I tend to think that the best answer to a question is the truth, and in this case that was the truth."

There is unanimity among Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers around the Cabinet table that the UK will ultimately have to take on Islamic State - also known as Isil or Isis - in Syria as well as Iraq, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said.

Mr Duncan Smith said that the decision to seek parliamentary approval for RAF air strikes only in Iraq was taken because Labour were not ready to back action in Syria and ministers did not want to split the Commons over the issue.

At a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, Mr Duncan Smith was asked whether he believed it made sense to take on IS in Iraq without pursuing them into Syria.

"Yes, because I believe ultimately that is exactly what we will have to do," he replied.

Asked if he meant that ultimately Britain would have to pursue the terror group into Syria, Mr Duncan Smith replied: "The Prime Minister believes that. He said as much in his speech.

"We have committed to support our allies ... The first step is to ensure that we support them in Iraq, to try to stop what they are doing and help the Iraqis and the Kurds in northern Iraq."

Mr Duncan Smith added: "The reality, I have to be honest with you, is that it is a Labour issue, it is an issue for the Labour Party.

"We need to carry the House of Commons on these things and so the answer here is that Labour decided that frankly this was not a step they wanted to take, so it conditions what we are doing.

"To be honest with you, there was absolute unity around the Cabinet table, including the Liberal Democrats as well, all basically saying the same thing - that the complete package is ultimately having to deal with Isil, not Isil in one place."

Mr Duncan Smith said he would not support any sort of deal with the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad to co-operate in attacking IS forces, insisting "they are part of the problem, not part of the solution".

He added: "I fully support what the Prime Minister's position is. He has shown real leadership on this.

"I wish America had shown strong leadership early on, but they have now and I think we should be supporting them."

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