BREAKING NEWS: Tornado jets from RAF Marham set to fly reconnaisance missions over Iraq
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Crews from the Norfolk base will join the international humanitarian effort in the north of the country, where thousands have been driven into the mountains by Islamic State (IS) fighters.
British aircraft have dropped aid including water and solar-powered lanterns on Mount Sinjar, where civilians have fled after extremists killed hundreds from the Yazidi religious group.
The Tornados will use their hi-tech aerial imaging equipment to take pictures of what is happening on the ground to pinpoint the location of refugees.
A 10 Downing Street spokesman said: “The challenge of getting aid safely to those on the mountain reinforces the need for a long term solution that gets these people to safety.
“We continue to work with international partners on options for doing this, including how we can develop a better picture of the number of peoples on the mountain and their exact locations.
“As part of that work, we have decided to pre-position a small number of Tornados in the region so that they could, if required, use their excellent surveillance capability to gather better situational awareness to help with humanitarian effort.
“This would be similar to the role the Tornado played in the UK earlier this year, gathering information on the areas affected by the severe floods.”
Speaking after a meeting of the government’s COBRA committee today, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “We don’t envisage a combat role at the present time.
“We are talking at the moment about a humanitarian operation and using our assets to gain more awareness of what’s going on this mountain – where people are, how we can get supplies into them and how we can help to get them out.”
The aircraft will leave Norfolk for an operating base at Akrotiri, in Cyprus, from where RAF transport planes are flying relief flights.