U-2 plane

The US military has reportedly started surveillance flights over Syria in an effort to gather intelligence on the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

Authorised by the US President Barack Obama over the weekend, the flights are likely to lay the groundwork for the first-ever US military air campaign in Syria in the country’s three-year civil war.

A senior US official was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: "There is no decision yet to do strikes, but in order to help make that decision, you want to get as much situational awareness as possible."

The US Central Command was believed to have requested additional surveillance aircraft, possibly high-altitude U-2 spy planes, for use in the Syrian campaign.

Unnamed US officials with knowledge of the matter told the publication that the intelligence from the proposed surveillance flights would supplement information provided by satellites regarding the terrorists.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem expressed readiness to cooperate against the militant group, but noted that any action against the militants ‘should be coordinated with the Syrian Government.’

"Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression," al-Moallem said.

"The proposed surveillance flights would supplement information provided by satellites regarding the terrorists."

However, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "I think when American lives are at stake, when we’re talking about defending our own interests, we’re not looking for the approval of the Syrian regime."

However, the White House refused to comment on any surveillance flights in Syrian airspace.

Last week, IS militants beheaded James Foley, a US journalist captured in Syria in 2012, and also threatened to kill another US hostage if the Pentagon continued airstrikes against the group in neighbouring Iraq.

Since 8 August, the US Central Command has conducted a total of 96 airstrikes across Iraq.

Having seized large parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq in recent months, IS militants also captured the Tabqa Air Base, the last stronghold of the Syrian Army in Raqqa province, two days ago.

Image: US is likely to use high-altitude U-2 spy plane for surveillance flights over Syria. Photo: courtesy of Adrian Pingstone.

Defence Technology