27 September 2014, NYT: 3 Nations Offer Limited Support to Attack on ISIS
30 August 2013, NYT: Britain's Rejection of Syrian Response Reflects Fear of Rushing to Act
JULY 17, 2015
British Pilots Have Been Conducting Airstrikes in Syria, Defense Ministry Confirms
By DAN BILEFSKY
LONDON -- British pilots have been conducting airstrikes in Syria as part of the American-led coalition against Islamic State militants, the Ministry of Defense confirmed on Friday, even though Parliament voted two years ago against military action there.
In September,  Britain joined Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and several Arab states in supporting the United States in its fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Lawmakers agreed to military operations in Iraq, but they drew a line against direct intervention in Syria.
The British Parliament rejected a motion in August 2013  calling for the authorization of an air campaign against Syria to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons.
In response to a Freedom of Information request by the human rights group Reprieve, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that British pilots had taken part in military strikes in Syria.
The ministry drew a distinction between British military action and British pilots embedded in coalition operations who "act under the command of host nations." Defense officials noted that participating in such an embed operation did not require parliamentary approval.
In the case of the Syrian airstrikes, the ministry said that British forces were operating as foreign troops as part of an embed program dating to the 1950s.
"The U.K. is contributing to the anti-ISIL Coalition air campaign against ISIL targets in Syria through the provision of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," the Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Twitter.  "ISIL poses a direct threat to the U.K. and to countries around the world."
No British pilots were currently operating in Syria, the statement said.
John Baron, a Conservative lawmaker who has opposed military action in Syria, called for the defense secretary, Michael Fallon, to explain the policy to Parliament.
"Those troops or individuals should be withdrawn from the embedded program whilst this vote holds sway, while it stills hold authority, until we vote again," he was quoted as saying by the BBC. "We said no to military intervention, whether we should be intervening or not, the fact is Parliament said there should be no military intervention."
Jennifer Gibson, a staff lawyer at Reprieve, said that documents obtained by the organization indicated that British personnel had been involved in bombing missions over Syria for some time, "making the current debate over whether Britain should carry out such strikes somewhat obsolete."
"It is alarming that Parliament and the public have been kept in the dark about this for so long," she said. "Yet more worrying is the fact that the U.K. seems to have turned over its personnel to the U.S. wholesale, without the slightest idea as to what they are actually doing, and whether it is legal."
Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated  that Britain is considering carrying out airstrikes in Syria, after a terrorist attack at a resort in Tunisia killed 38 people, including 30 Britons, in June. A vote is not expected for several months.
The government, along with that of France and other European countries, is also grappling with how to stem the tide of thousands of European citizens, including hundreds of Britons, who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State.
The threat posed by the Islamic State both at home and abroad came into sharp relief after a masked, knife-wielding militant with a British accent, nicknamed Jihadi John, appeared in videos in late 2014 and early 2015 showing the beheadings of Western and Japanese hostages, including two Britons.
British law enforcement officials have identified the militant as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born and London-raised university graduate.
Nevertheless, British resolve to fight the Islamic State in Syria has been tempered by concerns that such action could fan a larger regional conflict and inadvertently help the Syrian government led by Mr. Assad, who is fighting an insurgency by opponents, including the Islamic State.