The RAF is to extend its Tornado mission against Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq for a further year, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said.

The ageing jets were to be disbanded last March are now expected to remain in service until 2017, Fallon said during a visit to Baghdad.

He told reporters that the Tornado GR4 jets were providing vital air assistance to Iraqi ground forces and that the campaign against IS was making progress.

Fallon said:

“ISIL terrorists pose a threat the security of Iraq, Syria, the wider region and to the streets of Britain. It is therefore our duty to ensure that the UK continues to play its part to defeat this barbaric regime.

“Our aircraft have flown thousands of missions and RAF Tornados have carried out hundreds of strikes, helping Iraqi forces push back ISIL from the Kurdish region and out of key towns such as Tikrit and Bayji.

“We want to ensure we maintain this crucial operational tempo and so we will extend the lifetime of Number 12 Squadron for a further year to March 2017. This will allow us to sustain our effort, helping the Iraqis lead the fight on the ground.”

The Tornados were due to be replaced by with a squadron of Typhoon air defence fighters, but since the jets are already part of the coalition force against IS in Iraq, Fallon argued that the jets’ unique combination of Raptor surveillance pods along with precision-guided Paveway bombs and Brimstone missiles made them vital for the coalition.

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