In Brief

British pilots strike Syria despite parliamentary veto

Government confirms that embedded UK personnel have acted under command of host nations in Syria

Three British pilots have been involved in airstrikes over Syria, despite the British parliament voting against military action in the country two years ago.

The pilots were embedded with the US and Canadian air forces so were effectively not under British authority. However, some commentators have described this as a "technicality".

The news emerged through a Freedom of Information request by human rights group Reprieve, which has called for an "open and honest debate" about UK involvement in Iraq and Syria.

"It is alarming that Parliament and the public have been kept in the dark about this for so long," said Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve. "Yet more worrying is the fact that the UK seems to have turned over its personnel to the US wholesale, without the slightest idea as to what they are actually doing, and whether it is legal."

The RAF does send surveillance flights over Syria, but the British government was defeated on a vote to carry out military strikes against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime in 2013.

As the threat of Islamic State has increased, David Cameron has made clear that he thinks the UK should be "doing more in Syria". He is reportedly seeking support from Labour MPs to extend the RAF's airstrike campaign to target IS in Syria as well as Iraq.

A government spokesperson confirmed that the UK itself was not currently conducting air strikes in Syria. "But we do have a long-standing embed programme with allies, where small numbers of UK personnel act under the command of host nations," they added. The spokesperson said this has been the case in Syria in the past, but there are no pilots currently operating in the region. "When embedded, UK personnel are effectively operating as foreign troops," they said.

However, this was described as a "technicality" by Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall. "When it was so publicly rejected by parliament, they are being perhaps a little foolish to have British pilots putting themselves in that position," he said.

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