A UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted air system (RPAS) has launched the first air strike against the Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq.
Assigned to support a series of coalition missions near Bayji, north of Baghdad over the weekend, Reaper successfully attacked terrorists laying improvised explosive devices using a Hellfire missile.
The drone used procedures identical to those of manned aircraft and also continued to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance to coalition aircraft. This enabled them to conduct further strikes.
Also on 9 November, two RAF Tornado GR4 fighters were tasked to investigate suspected IS activity near Al Anbar, west of Baghdad.
The aircraft fired a single Brimstone missile to successfully destroy a shipping container used by the terrorists to store equipment to support extortion and control of the local population.
Operating from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the Tornado fighters have been conducting airstrikes on multiple IS targets in northern Iraq since last month.
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The Reaper airstrikes come just days before the US Department of Defense announced that the initial group of Iraqi F-16 jets will be sent to Tuscon, Arizona, instead of Balad Air Base, Iraq.
Iraq ordered a total of 36 F-16 C/D Block 52 fighters from Lockheed Martin in September 2011 and October 2012, to help rebuild its air force.
Deliveries to Iraqi Air Force were originally scheduled to start by mid-2014, but were postponed after IS overran much of the north-western part of the country. This led to evacuation of the programme contractors from Balad airbase.
US Defense Department spokesman Army colonel Steven Warren said: "We are going to deliver three F-16s to Tucson in December and then one per month after that through May for a total of eight F-16s.
"We expect the Iraqi pilots will begin flying their own aircraft for continuation training beginning in January.
"All maintenance for the F-16s will be provided by [contracted] logistic support."
Image: UK MQ-9 Reaper aircraft launched the first air strike against the Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Photo: Crown copyright.