Since the last written update on 13 October 2014 (Official Report, column 9WS), UK military activity to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL has continued. The UK continues to be the second largest contributor to the coalition airstrike campaign. Our Tornado aircraft and Reaper Remotely Piloted Air Systems have conducted 199 strikes up to 26 March 2015 and continue to gather vital intelligence alongside other assets like the Rivet Joint. The UK will also be deploying two Sentinel aircraft to provide further intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. Voyager has played a vital role refuelling UK and coalition aircraft, our C130 transport aircraft have continued to deliver essential equipment and resupplies and E3-D Sentry aircraft enhance the coalition’s capacity to provide airborne command and control. There are now over 630 UK personnel directly contributing to the Coalition with around 150 UK personnel in Iraq.
Within the coalition’s training programme to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces, the UK is coordinating Coalition counter-IED training with a small planning team in Baghdad and some 30 military trainers based in Erbil. The UK has trained over 1,100 Iraqi forces in Infantry Skills and in the use of the UK-gifted heavy machine guns.
As the Prime Minister has stated, ISIL needs to be defeated in Syria as well as Iraq. In Syria, coalition airstrikes have supported the liberation of Kobane and have disrupted ISIL’s resources and their ability to direct activity in Iraq. However, as with Iraq, the answer against ISIL ultimately lies with local forces, rather than air strikes. I refer to my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary’s statement in the House on 16 Oct 2014 (Official Report, column 470) that indicated we have been working with Coalition allies to look at how the UK can support the US-led programme to train the moderate Syrian opposition. This programme aims to train and equip thousands of screened members of the opposition over the next three years in regional training centres outside Syria. These forces will initially focus on defending Syrian communities against ISIL’s brutal attacks but will subsequently go on the offensive against ISIL. They will also help to promote the conditions for a political settlement to the conflict in Syria. The UK contribution will include around 75 trainers and headquarters staff. They will provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills. Training is expected to begin in the next few weeks.