Syria air strikes: David Cameron warns of long campaign

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "Compelling case" to extend airstrikes to Syria

The mission to target so-called Islamic State militants in Syria could take some time and will require persistence, PM David Cameron has said.

RAF Tornados conducted air strikes on six targets in Syria, "successfully" attacking an IS-controlled oilfield on Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said.

There will be "strong support from our allies" for the action, the PM added.

Two more Tornados and six Typhoons have arrived at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus, from where they will join the attacks.

Speaking after the strikes, Mr Cameron said the operation in Syria would require "patience".

"It is complex and it is difficult what we are asking our pilots to do, and our thoughts should be with them and their families as they commence this important work," he said.

The decision to approve the mission was "good for the country", the prime minister said, adding: "There was a compelling case for extending our air strikes from Iraq to Syria, and I was glad to see such strong support right across parliament."

MPs overwhelmingly backed UK military action against IS - also known as Daesh - in Syria, by 397 votes to 223, after a 10-hour Commons debate on Wednesday.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has welcomed the result of the vote, saying European forces had to lead the response to the threat.

Delivering the Kissinger Lecture at the Library of Congress in Washington, Mr Blair said: "We should learn the lessons of the whole period from 9/11 to today and try to forge a new synthesis of foreign policy which recognises the need for an active policy of engagement, but in a way sophisticated by our experience, not incapacitated by it.

"For Europe, there is a huge calculation to be made. This security threat is at our door. It is actually within our home."

He added that there was "no doubt" in his mind that "this is a battle we will win".

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the MoD would be assessing the damage done by the first strikes, saying he had personally approved the targets ahead of the Commons vote.

He said the aim was to strike "a very real blow on the oil and revenue on which Daesh depends".

A White House spokesman welcomed Parliament's approval of action in Syria, saying "we congratulate the UK on the strikes overnight".

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the UK was obliged under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution on dealing with IS to coordinate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on air strikes in the country.

'Urgency' over oilfields

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the IS-controlled Omar oilfield in eastern Syria - hit by UK air strikes - was one of eight oilfields targeted by coalition forces.

He said the decision to target oilfields may have been a political one - to avoid civilian casualties.

But our correspondent said there was now "an urgency" among US-led forces to "close down" IS sources of revenue.

The oilfield at Omar potentially represents more than 10% of its income, the MoD said.

Mr Fallon also confirmed two Tornados and six Typhoons were being sent to join the eight jets already at the RAF Akrotiri base in Cyprus, from where UK operations in Iraq have been launched.

The Typhoons left RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland, to join the air strikes.

The view from Damascus

Image copyright RAF

By BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet

This morning's newspapers in Damascus reiterate criticism Syrian officials have made for years about the West's engagement here.

"Britain didn't ask permission from Syria's government," declares the state news agency SANA. "Cameron told lies," it says.

Syrian officials insist Britain and its allies must follow Russia's example and co-ordinate their campaign with Syrian government forces. If they don't, they warn, they simply won't succeed.

The deadlock over President Assad's future role will continue to block the formation of a unified command against a common enemy. It will also stand in the way of Britain's pledge that it will now also focus on finding a negotiated way out of this war.

Syrian activists and opposition groups feel bitterly let down that the West did not give them this kind of military support to help remove President Assad.

And the many Syrians exhausted by war want, most of all, to believe Britain's promise that it's stepping up the fight to "win the peace" - as hard as that is.

Syrian state media reacts with scorn

Mr Fallon said there was a "very rigorous" process by which targets were chosen, and all British military action would adhere to "very strict rules of engagement".

Asked how long the UK might be involved in the coalition campaign against IS in Syria, he said it would "not be quick", but argued it had not been right to leave bombing to other air forces.

On the issue of ground forces, he said the prime minister of Iraq had made it very clear he did not want Western troops on the ground to fight IS.

In a statement, the MoD said the British jets - supported by a Voyager air refuelling tanker, an unmanned Reaper drone and other coalition aircraft - had attacked six targets.

"Carefully selected elements of the oilfield infrastructure were targeted, ensuring the strikes will have a significant impact on Daesh's ability to extract the oil to fund their terrorism," it said.

Before the attacks, pilots used the aircrafts' sensors to confirm "no civilians were in the proximity of the targets", it stated.

Air strikes were launched shortly after Parliament approved UK military action in Syria, after MPs debated the issue on Wednesday.

A total of 66 Labour MPs - 29% of the parliamentary party - sided with the government as it secured a larger than expected Commons majority.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said the situation in Syria is "catastrophic", with more than 12 million Syrians in need of "immediate humanitarian assistance".

The RAF has been carrying out operations against IS in Iraq since last year.

To date, the US has conducted nearly all of the air strikes in Syria and Iraq, with France, Australia and Denmark also taking part.

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