Operation Shader

MILITARY TORNADO GR4

Babak Taghvaee provides an encyclopaedic account of Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 missions over Syria and Iraq conducted in support of Operations Shader and Roundup during the last five years of the type’s service

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During the first year of Operation Shader, Tornado GR4s conducting missions over Iraq were refuelled by coalition tankers including Royal Australian Air Force KC-30s.
Sgt Shane Gidall/Royal Australian Air Force

Thirty-eight Tornado GR4s participated in Operation Shader, carrying out various missions ranging from coordinating airdrops of humanitarian aid and reconnaissance missions to airstrikes against ground targets. Based at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, the Tornado GR Force was the RAF’s weapon of choice for airstrikes against Islamic terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. The jets contributed to the liberation of various cities including Mosul and Raqqa. The relatively small force carried out almost 4,000 combat sorties and logged no fewer than 16,000 flight hours between August 13, 2014 and January 31, 2019.

At the beginning

On the night of August 13-14, 2014, eight Tornado GR4s of II(AC) Squadron, usually based at RAF Marham, Norfolk but deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus oversaw the airdrop of humanitarian aid over Mount Sinjar using their Litening III pods. In subsequent operations they used RAPTOR reconnaissance pods to collect intelligence for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR), the Joint Task Force established by the US-led international coalition against ISIS.

On September 30, 2014, the RAF began airstrikes against ISIS with Tornado GR4s. At the time the TGRF comprised four units; II(AC), IX(B), 12 and 31 Squadrons, all of which deployed to Shader. Each squadron deployed jets to RAF Akrotiri for between two and 16 months. During the Shader years, Tornado GR4s carried out 783 airstrikes on 658 missions. As of December 31, 2018, 1,542 precision-guided munitions had been expended comprising 1,129 GBU-12 Paveway IVs, 43 Enhanced Paveway IIs, eight Enhanced Paveway IIIs, eight Storm Shadow conventionally armed stand-off missiles, and 378 Brimstone air-to-surface missile. The total cost to the British exchequer is given by the UK government as £129.82 million.

When the Royal Air Force first deployed Tornado GR4s to RAF Akrotiri in August 2014, it had 95 jets operational. The fleet number decreased to 76 by the end of 2015, to 59 in December 2016, to 35 by December 2017, and just 19 in December 2018.

Early airstrikes in Iraq

II(AC) Squadron, sent four GR4s to RAF Akrotiri to support humanitarian airdrop missions by Hercules C4s on August 12, 2014; ZA592/059, ZA588/056, ZA560/050 and ZD740/087 call signs ASCOT 9801 to 9804. They were followed by, ZA557/048, ZG779/136, ZD744/092 and ZA543/036 (ASCOT 9805 to 9808 respectively) the next day. Before being assigned to Shader, ZA557 and ZA543 served with XV(R) Squadron; the other six with 31 Squadron.

Coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq began on August 8, 2014 and in Syria on September 22, 2014. Those first strikes were carried out by US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones and F-22 Raptors flying from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

On September 26, 2014, the United Kingdom’s House of Commons authorised the Royal Air Force to conduct airstrikes against ISIS. The UK was the third member of the CJTF-OIR to launch airstrikes against the terror organization, after the United States on August 8 and France on September 19.

First strike was carried out by a pair of Tornado GR4s on September 30. Each jet carried a Litening IIIRD targeting pod, two 500lb GBU-12 Paveway IV precisionguided munitions, a clip of three Brimstone missiles and a pair of Hindenburg 2,250-litre external fuel tanks. In the course of their armed reconnaissance mission from Cyprus, the jets were tasked with assisting Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northwest Iraq who were under attack from ISIS terrorists.

Arriving overhead, the Tornado crews used their Litening pods to identify an ISIS heavy weapon position which was engaging the Kurds. One Paveway IV eliminated the ISIS threat. Shortly afterwards an ISIS-operated armed pick-up truck in the same area was destroyed by a Brimstone missile.

Offensive to liberate Baiji, Iraq

Baiji is an industrial city 70 miles (130km) north of Baghdad, equidistant between Baghdad and Mosul. A major transport hub it is home to the largest oil refinery in Iraq. On June 14, 2014 ISIS invaded the town and held it until November when a fierce battle took place to displace the terrorist fighters. It is important to remember ISIS forces controlled about a third of Iraq in 2014. The first phase of the Iraqi army’s offensive to re-take Baiji ran between October 29 and December 21, 2014.

RAF Tornado GR4s launched an airstrike in support of Iraqi forces on November 4, 2014. A Brimstone was used to destroy an ISIS armed pick-up truck near Baiji. Sixteen days later on November 20, a pair of GR4s which were on armed patrol duty north of Baghdad were called upon by Iraqi forces to bomb three buildings which were being used by ISIS near Baiji’s oil refinery. One Paveway IV was used to destroy each building.

During the major offensive to liberate Baiji and break the siege of the oil facility, between December 23, 2014 and October 22, 2015, Royal Air Force Tornados carried out a total of 16 airstrikes in support of the Iraqi Army, Special Forces, the Iraqi Federal Police’s Mosul Battalion, and Hashd al-Sha’bi (Popular Mobilization Force/PMF). During these airstrikes they used one Brimstone to destroy a vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) as well as 35 Paveway IVs to destroy seven fighting positions, four soft-skinned vehicles, two armoured vehicles, nine buildings, a mortar position, a fortified building, and ten other targets.

After the liberation of Baiji, Tornados carried out 12 airstrikes between October 29, 2015 and August 17, 2018. During these airstrikes a total of nine Brimstones were used against an ISIS checkpoint, three VBIEDs, three fighting positions, an armoured vehicle and a single terrorist who was on foot. Tornados also employed a single Enhanced Paveway II and 13 Paveway IVs against 13 targets comprising five fighting groups, two fighting positions, one mortar position, a VBIED, two trucks, two buildings and a cave.

Storm Shadow

On June 26, 2016 Tornado GR4s used Storm Shadow for the first time on Operation Shader. Intelligence had determined that ISIS was using a large concrete bunker at Albu Hayat in western Iraq as a weapons facility. Because of its hardened construction, it was decided to use four Storm Shadow missiles against the Saddam-era edifice because the weapon is especially effective against such a challenging target. The missiles were launched by two Tornados, ZA592 callsign ASCOT 9951 and ZA550 ASCOT 9953. All four Storm Shadows scored direct hits and penetrated deep within the bunker. The mission was supported by a Voyager KC3 tanker ZZ334, ASCOT 9921.

On October 31, 2016, Tornados including ZA463 joined coalition aircraft from a number of other countries in attacking a former Iraqi military depot near Haditha in western Iraq where ISIS was manufacturing weapons. Tornados used Storm Shadow missiles in what was considered a successful mission.

Sinjar

Readers will remember that Operation Shader began as an effort to protect Yazidi civilians from ISIS near Sinjar in Kurdish northern Iraq. The city was an important stop on the main road between the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.

Kurdish Peshmerga and its allies fought to liberate the city in December 2014. Between December 17 and 22, 2014, Tornados launched four Brimstone missiles against an ISIS checkpoint and two armoured vehicles, and dropped two Paveway IVs on an ISIScontrolled fortified building.

The TGRF carried out 27 more airstrikes in support of the Peshmerga before the city was fully liberated on November 14, 2015. Seven Brimstones were used to destroy three armoured personnel carriers (APCs), two heavy machine guns and two trucks. In the same period 47 Paveway IVs were used against two fighting positions, three fighting groups, a bulldozer, a checkpoint, three APCs, nine buildings, 17 light and heavy machine guns, three mortar positions, one weapons cache, three rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) teams, two sniper teams and six fortified buildings.

After the liberation of Sinjar, RAF Tornados carried out 30 more airstrikes in the area to prevent ISIS recapturing it. Between November 16, 2015 and January 8, 2017, Tornados used five Brimstones against three soft-skinned vehicles, a Soviet-era T-55 main battle tank and a weapons cache. They also dropped 42 Paveway IVs against a sniper team, five weapons caches, an armoured vehicle, nine mortar positions, three fortified buildings, a RPG team, six buildings, five heavy machine-gun teams, four fighting groups, one rocket launcher, one supply truck and a tunnel system near Sinjar. It is known that 14 Paveway IVs were dropped from Tornados in that period but details of the targets have not been released by the authorities.

Haditha

Haditha is a major, mostly Sunni Muslim, town in Iraq’s Al Anbar governorate situated some 150 miles (240km) northwest of Baghdad. Its strategic significance stems from its proximity to the Haditha hydroelectric dam. The dam and its infrastructure were important objectives for ISIS. Between December 25, 2014 and December 23, 2016, RAF Tornados conducted 11 airstrikes against ISIS in and around Haditha. Six Brimstones, seven Paveway IVs and four Storm Shadow cruise missiles were used to keep ISIS away from Haditha and its dam.

The six Brimstones destroyed three vehicles, two APCs and a bulldozer while the Paveway IVs targeted a VBIED, a heavy machine gun, three fighting groups, a weapons cache and a bunker. The four Storm Shadows targeted four bunkers.

Protecting Al-Asad Air Base

RAF Tornados were called upon on six occasions between February 24, 2015 and April 21, 2016 to support Iraqi Army efforts to protect Al-Asad Air Base. Six Paveway IVs were expended against a building, an antiaircraft gun, a machine gun, a weapons cache, five rocket launchers, and a group of ISIS terrorists. A pair of Enhanced Paveway IIIs were used against a bunker complex.

Over Tikrit

Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, was the scene of two battles against ISIS. It was seized by the group in June 2014 just before the ISIS declaration of a worldwide caliphate.

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Tornado GR4 ZA449/020 uploads fuel from a Royal Canadian Air Force CC- 150 Polaris tanker over Iraq.
Royal Canadian Air Force

In the days before the city was captured, Tornados fired two Brimstones against terrorist forces.

In March 2015, Tornados supported ground forces in operations that led to the removal of terrorists from the city. A Brimstone was used against an APC and three Paveway IVs against ISIS strongholds on March 25 and March 29.

After the liberation of Tikrit, RAF Tornados conducted six airstrikes in support of the Iraqi security forces in the area around Tikrit. Between September 18, 2017 and August 1, 2018, a single Brimstone missile was used against an ISIS truck while eight Paveway IVs were dropped on two ISIS mortar teams, a tunnel entrance, an ISIS HQ, a group of ISIS fighters and a truck.

Hawija offensive

The operation to re-capture Hawija, 31 miles (51km) west of Kirkuk, from Islamic state was conducted by the Iraqi Army and supporting ground forces in 2017. Akrotiri-based Tornados expended three Brimstones and three Paveway IVs in missions on September 22 and 23. Three VBIEDs, an ISIS HQ and a shipping container were destroyed.

In the run-up to the offensive, Tornados carried out three airstrikes against ISIS in the Hawija area. Between July 3 and September 7, 2017, one Brimstone missile was used against a truck carrying ISIS jihadis and five Paveway IVs against four VBIED workshops. On March 11, 2018, Tornados targeted a group of ISIS terrorists near the city.

Eight of the best

The last eight Tornado GR4s to serve in Operation Shader were ZA463, ZA542, ZA587, ZA597, ZA601, ZD744, ZD848 and ZG791 all assigned to IX(B) Squadron.

ZA463: Served on Op Shader twice. Its second and final tour to Akrotiri started on May 15, 2018 when it flew from Marham as ASCOT 9812. Before returning home on February 4, 2019 as ASCOT 9521 it logged a total of 49 sorties between May 20, 2018 and January 27, 2019; 23 of which were flown at night.

ZA542: Also on its second Shader tour, ZA542/035 flew to Cyprus on July 23, 2018 as ASCOT 9513 replacing ZD716 which flew home two days later. It logged 41 sorties, including 18 at night, between April 9, 2018 and January 31, 2019. It flew home to Marham on February 4 as ASCOT 9525.

ZA587: Another second tour Shader veteran, ZA587 flew to Cyprus on November 13, 2018 as RAFAIR 7090. It logged 23 sorties during its time on Shader including 13 at night starting on November 14, 2018 and ending with the final mission on January 28, 2018. It flew home as ASCOT 9528 on February 5.

ZA597: ZA597 was one of two Tornado GR4s (the other was ZA601) to be deployed overseas on December 4, 2018 as ASCOT 9682. It was the jet’s second involvement in Op Shader with its first mission logged in the morning of December 9. It had technical problems during the early minutes of its fourth mission from RAF Akrotiri on December 15 which led to an emergency landing. After repairs and an engine change it had a functional check flight on December 23 and flew its next mission on January 5 but was grounded again on January 17 after four more flights. It only logged nine combat sorties including five at night during its final operational deployment. It returned home on February 4 as ASCOT 9523.

ZA601: For ZA601, the deployment to Shader that started on December 4, 2018 as ASCOT 9682 was its third. Its missions started with a day patrol on December 9, 2018 and ended with another day patrol on January 31, 2019. It logged a total of 16 sorties including seven at night. It returned home in the capable hands of Wing Commanders Heeps and Brassani, the officers commanding IX(B) and 31 Squadrons on February 5, 2019 as ASCOT 9526.

ZD744: ZD744’s second involvement in Op Shader began on February 20, 2018 when it flew to Cyprus as RAFAIR 7084. It made its first patrol on February 25, 2018 and its last, which was at night, of at least 51, on January 30, 2019. It made the return flight to Marham on February 5, 2019 as ASCOT 9527.

ZD848: ZD848 flew to Akrotiri on May 29, 2018 as RAFAIR 9711 for its only deployment on Operation Shader. It was replacing ZA546 which went home the next day. It logged a total of 44 combat sorties including 13 at night. Its first mission was in the morning of June 10, 2018 and its last on the evening of January 30, 2019. It made the return journey to Marham on February 4, 2019 as ASCOT 9524.

ZG791: ZG791 also deployed to Shader twice with its final involvement beginning on July 1, 2018 when it made the journey from the UK as RAFAIR 9711. It flew at least 39 sorties with the first on August 18, 2018 and the last on January 27, 2019. It made a functional check flight on January 28 before returning home as ASCOT 9522 on February 4, 2019.

Kirkuk

Operations in and around Kirkuk were a constant theme of Operation Shader. Tornados provided vital close air support for Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces, conducting 37 air strikes against ISIS in or around the city between November 19, 2014 and May 4, 2018. Paveway IVs were dropped on a series of tunnels in the only known 2014 strike on November 19.

The following year saw more Tornado actions with a total of three Brimstones launched (one ach at an excavator and two heavy machine guns) while ten Paveway IVs were dropped on two rocket launchers, an excavator, three heavy machine guns, a supply truck, a vehicle, an ISIS mortar team and two buildings. This ordnance was dropped during ten sorties.

The number of sorties in 2016 increased by one to a total of 11. Five Brimstones were used against two cave entrances, two vehicles or trucks and a heavy machine gun. Eight Paveway IVs were used to destroy three buildings, a VBIED, a heavy mortar, a weapons cache, a heavy machine gun and a bridge. Two Enhanced Paveway IIs were used to destroy a truck bomb factory on October 12.

The tempo of operations remained high in 2017; Tornados carried out 15 airstrikes against ISIS during the year. Four Brimstones were launched and 16 Paveway IVs were dropped. Brimstones targeted two vehicles or trucks, a VBIED and an ISIS command group which also simultaneously was hit by a Paveway IV. The other 14 Paveway IVs expended were used to hit a vehicle, two VBIED workshops, a tunnel entrance, two ISIS HQ facilities, six buildings, an ISIS stronghold and a weapons cache.

The last Tornado airstrike near Kirkuk took place on May 4, 2018 when a pair of Paveway IVs targeted a terrorist position and a truck parked nearby.

Fallujah

Fallujah, 43 miles (69km) west of Baghdad has been much in the news in recent years and has suffered extensive damage. Between October 19, 2014 and September 24, 2017, RAF Tornados carried out 37 airstrikes in and around the city. Six Brimstones and 61 Paveway IVs were used against various ISIS targets. During the siege of Fallujah between February 2 and May 22, 2016, Tornados carried out nine airstrikes dropping 16 Paveway IVs on two ISIS fighting positions, a fortified building, six other buildings, a weapons cache, two heavy machine guns, a supply truck, a tunnel entrance, and a small bunker.

Before the siege Tornados conducted seven airstrikes using a pair of Brimstones to target two pick-up trucks armed with heavy machine guns as well as ten Paveway IVs against four vehicles, a shipping container, two fighting positions, a mortar team, and two tunnel entrances.

Operation Breaking Terrorism, otherwise known as the Fallujah Offensive, ran between May 22 and June 29, 2016. RAF Tornado GR4s conducted 21 airstrikes aimed at ISIS during the course of the operation. Again, only two Brimstones were used (one at a mortar and another at a light machine gun) but 35 Paveway IVs were launched at a truck, seven buildings, an artillery team, 12 heavy machine guns, a weapons cache, a shipping container, two tunnel complexes, a bunker, a rocket launcher, three anti-tank weapons and a VBIED workshop with a pair of VBIEDs inside.

After the liberation of Fallujah, Tornados took part in only one more airstrike in the area which was carried out on September 24, 2017. Aircraft ZA585 and ZG777 demolished an ISISheld building in Zawiyyah with a Paveway IV.

Battle of Hit

The Battle of Hit also known as Operation Desert Lynx, was an Iraqi government offensive to recapture the town of Hit during the Anbar offensive. Hit and Fallujah were the only cities still under the control of ISIS in Al-Anbar province after Iraqi forces recaptured the city of Ramadi.

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Tornado GR4 ZA556/047 landing at RAF Akrotiri after a patrol mission over Syria and Iraq armed with two Paveway IVs and one Brimstone missile; the aircraft made its first flight on September 8, 1981 and its final flight on November 15, 2018.
Babak Taghvaee

Operation Desert Lynx led to the liberation of the city and the areas surrounding it. RAF Tornados conducted two strikes against ISIS in the area before the battle began, dropping five Paveway IVs on a group of insurgents, a weapons cache, and two machine gun positions. Shader Tornados made three attacks during the battle itself, using four Brimstones against three boats and a terrorist observation post as well as two Paveway IVs against two buildings where VBIEDs were being prepared.

After the liberation of the city, Tornados conducted four more airstrikes. On April 19, 2016, ZA559 and ZA585 destroyed two machine gun positions with two Paveway IVs and then on May 27, 2016, a Tornado launched a Brimstone missile to target a VBIED. Two days later one of a pair of Tornados used another Brimstone to destroy an ISIS vehicle. The last Tornado action around Hit was on July 13, 2016 when ZA601 and ZA550 used two Brimstones to destroy two 120mm heavy mortars.

Ar-Rutbah

The Ar-Rutbah offensive led to the liberation of Ar-Rutbah in May 2015, but before that RAF Tornados had carried out an airstrike on February 23, 2015 during which a Paveway IV was used to target an ISIS armed vehicle. Between June 11, 2015 and May 23, 2018 Tornados expended weapons in the area on six occasions. They fired three Brimstones, one at an APC and two others at engineering vehicles; they also dropped two Paveway IVs on an ISIS HQ, a VBIED HQ and a building. Ar-Rutbah was noteworthy in that it was the first time ISIS fled a town without putting up stiff resistance.

Al-Shirqat

More than 160,000 people were displaced when ISIS took control of the majority Sunni Muslim town of Al-Shirqat in the Saladin governorate of Iraq in 2014. Operation Shader Tornado GR4s contributed eight airstrikes in support of Iraqi security forces’ efforts to retake the city between July 11 and its eventual liberation on September 22, 2016. A single Brimstone and six Paveway IVs were used to destroy a vehicle, a mortar position, a building, two groups of insurgents and a barge with a VBIED on it.

Two Brimstones and four Paveway IVs were expended against ISIS forces after the liberation of Al-Shirqat. On four missions flown between September 7 and November 18, 2017, the Brimstones were used to target a vehicle and a supply truck and the Paveway IVs destroyed a vehicle, two VBIEDs, a building and a fuel depot.

Qayyarah, Iraq

Situated in the northern Iraqi governorate of Nineveh, the capture of Qayyarah from ISIS, which had occupied the area in 2014, was a strategically important goal. Its oilfields and airfield were prestigious acquisitions for the Jihadis and the recapture of the airfield in particular was a key step towards the eventual liberation of Mosul.

Even before the liberation of Qayyarah in August 2016, RAF Tornado GR4s had been very active in the area, conducting 20 airstrikes in support of Iraqi security forces. They fired eight Brimstones and dropped 52 Paveway IVs and four Enhanced Paveway IIs on ISIS targets between December 8, 2015 and August 24, 2016.

The eight Brimstones in question targeted a mortar team, four squads of ISIS infantry and a bulldozer, while the 52 Paveway IVs destroyed six mortar teams or positions, one vehicle, three buildings, two bulldozers, 12 groups of ISIS fighters, a sniper team, two rocket launchers, a supply truck, 16 bunkers (used as a VBIED factory), two bridges, a staging post and a pontoon bridge. The four Enhanced Paveway IIs were also used to destroy a VBIED factory.

Fierce fighting continued in the area after the liberation of the town, and RAF Tornados launched 14 more attacks in support of Iraqi forces in the area between September 1, 2016 and September 20, 2017. Targets for the 14 Brimstones, 16 Paveway IVs and one Enhanced Paveway II included, for the Brimstones, nine vehicles, two VBIEDs, an APC, an antitank weapon and a boat. The Paveway IVs destroyed three vehicles, two VBIEDs, a mortar team, a rocket launcher, two bulldozers, two groups of ISIS troops, three weapons caches and a VBIED workshop. The sole Enhanced Paveway II was used against a VBIED.

Liberation of Mosul

From the beginning of Operation Shader until mid-2018, Tornado GR4s conducted 266 airstrikes against ISIS in the Mosul and surrounding areas. A massive amount of ordnance was expended; 112 Brimstones, 322 Paveway IVs, 15 Enhanced Paveway IIs and four Enhanced 2,000lb Paveway IIIs.

Tornado involvement in the area began on November 14, 2014, when GR4s used three Brimstones against three vehicles and five Paveway IVs against two fighting positions, a mortar team and a bulldozer.

The offensive against Mosul itself was launched on January 21, 2015 and lasted until February 10. In that period, Tornados only fired one Brimstone, at an ISIS mortar team. However, from February 10, 2015 until March 24, 2016 when a major operation called Operation Conquest of Fatah was launched to re-take Mosul, Shader Tornados made 55 attacks against ISIS using 19 Brimstones and 87 Paveway IVs.

The 87 Paveway IVs targeted and destroyed two vehicles, 15 buildings, 16 fighting positions, 10 mortar teams, one artillery position, nine groups of troops, two check points, seven machine guns, four weapons caches, eight rocket launchers, two bunkers, two headquarters buildings, a VBIED workshop, a command post and two excavators. The 19 Brimstones destroyed twelve vehicles, a fighting position, a checkpoint, an APC, an RPG team, a rocket launcher and three engineering vehicles.

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A Tornado GR4 armed with two Paveway IVs and one Brimstone missile prior to a night mission at RAF Akrotiri in November 2018.
Royal Air Force

During Operation Conquest, the anti-ISIS offensive carried out by the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga and local militias between March 24 and September 22, 2016, Tornado GR4s carried out 36 strikes. Nine Brimstones, 48 Paveway IVs, an Enhanced Paveway II and four Enhanced Paveway IIIs were used against ISIS targets.

The Brimstones scored hits on two vehicles, a VBIED, a T-62 main battle tank, a weapons cache and 16 rocket launchers while the Paveway IVs destroyed a vehicle, 16 buildings, three fighting positions, five mortar teams, eight groups of ISIS fighters, six weapons caches, a rocket launcher, two tunnel entrances, a HQ, a VBIED factory, a command and control post and two barges. The Enhanced Paveway II destroyed another VBIED factory while the Enhanced Paveway IIIs destroyed a security centre and three HQs.

Between Operation Conquest and the battle of Mosul which finally led to the recapture of the whole city in July 2017, GR4s made eight attacks during which they fired three Brimstones at a vehicle, a single terrorist and a mortar team, while ten Paveway IVs were dropped on four vehicles, two groups of terrorists, two weapons caches, a tunnel system and a communications installation. Seven Enhanced Paveway IIs were used against a weapons factory, an HQ, a tunnel system and an anti-tank weapon position between September 22 and October 16, 2016.

The final battle of Mosul involved almost 60,000 Iraqi security forces, 14,000 paramilitary forces from Iran’s Republican Guard Corps and 40,000 Peshmerga forces; it was launched on October 16, 2016. The ruined city was liberated just under a year later on July 9, 2017.

Tornado GR4s conducted 164 airstrikes and used 78 Brimstones, 172 Paveway IVs and seven Enhanced Paveway IIs to destroy a total of 244 ISIS targets in that period!

The Brimstones scored hits on 12 vehicles, nine VBIEDs, one building, 27 fighting positions, five mortar teams, two bulldozers, three groups of Jihadis, two APCs, two main battle tanks, four machine gun nests, ten sniper teams, an anti-tank weapon, a barge, two boats and an important passageway.

The Paveway IVs targeted three vehicles, 28 buildings, 22 fighting positions, 18 mortar teams, three fortified buildings, seven fighting groups, four checkpoints, 29 machine guns, three weapons caches, two RPG teams, 11 sniper teams, three tunnel systems, an anti-aircraft gun, three VBIED workshops or factories, three artillery weapons, 13 key routes, six strongpoints and a group of suicide bombers. The seven Enhanced Paveway IIs destroyed a fighting position, a fighting group, two buildings, two fortified buildings and a tunnel system.

After the liberation of Mosul, Tornados carried out three more airstrikes in support of Iraqi security forces in the region on August 16, 2017, April 30, 2018 and May 20, 2018 during which they used five Paveway IVs against a mortar team and four tunnel systems and their entrances.

Ramadi and Habbaniyah

RAF Tornados used four Paveway IVs and two Brimstones against two ISIS strongholds in the Ramadi area on October 5 and 7, 2014. ISIS recaptured Ramadi in October 2014 and coalition forces provided air support for Iraqi security forces’ efforts to dislodge them. On November 21, 2014 ISIS launched a bid to capture all of Al-Anbar province of which Ramadi was the main government stronghold. The battle of Abu Muhannad Al Sweidanwi raged for six months during which 600 ISIS terrorists routed 6,000 Iraqi Army troops and Shia militias. The city was captured by ISIS on May 17, 2015.

During the coalition operation which ended with ISIS’s victory and the fall of the city, Tornado GR4s conducted seven airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces during which, between December 12, 2014 and April 24, 2015 they employed four Brimstones against a vehicle, two VBIEDs and an APC, while 11 Paveway IVs were used against eight fighting positions, a fighting group, a sniper team and three buildings. Tornado ops continued after the city fell to ISIS with a single strike against an ISIS mortar position with a Brimstone at Habbaniyah on July 10, 2015.

On August 11, 2015, Iraqi security forces launched an offensive to recapture the city. Between then and its eventual fall on December 28, 2015, Tornados made 32 attacks against ISIS using five Brimstones and 39 Paveway IVs. The Brimstones scored hits on a VBIED, an APC, a fighting group, a mortar team and a supply truck, while the Paveways targeted nine fighting groups, ten fighting positions, two buildings, three machine guns, five RPG teams, four sniper teams and four anti-aircraft guns.

After the recapture of Ramadi, work to mop up pockets of ISIS resistance continued until February 9, 2016. A further 14 Tornado airstrikes were made in Ramadi, Habbaniyah and the areas around them using seven Brimstones and 22 Paveway IVs. The Brimstones scored hits on a vehicle, two VBIEDs, two buildings, a group of ISIS fighters, a fighting position and a machine gun team while the Paveway IVs targeted a vehicle, six buildings, eleven fighting positions, a fighting group, two mortar teams, three machine gun teams, a weapons cache, a RPG team, a sniper team and a bunker.

After the battle of Ramadi, Tornado GR4s, Reapers and Typhoon FGR4s continued daily surveillance patrols over the town and surrounding areas. Between February 14, 2016 and October 12, 2017, Tornado GR4s conducted a total of 11 airstrikes with 13 Brimstones, 23 Paveway IVs and an Enhanced Paveway II. The Brimstones scored hits on seven vehicles, four engineering vehicles and a fighting position, while the Paveway IVs were used against three vehicles, eight buildings, a fortified building, four fighting groups, an HQ and a camp. The single Enhanced Paveway II was used against a weapon store.

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Tornado GR4s ZA587, ZA601 and ZD744 were the last to return to RAF Marham on February 5, 2019. The three-ship made a farewell flypast over RAF Akrotiri.
Babak Taghvaee

Syrian oil

Following ISIS terror attacks in Europe and the attack on Metrojet Flight 9268 over the Sinai desert on October 31, 2015, the US Air Force, on November 16, and Russian Air Force on November 17, started carrying out large scale airstrikes against the ISIS’s main revenue generator – stolen oil. Four US Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt IIs and two AC-130W Stinger II gunships flying from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey and Russian Su-24M2s, Su-25SM2, Su-25SM3s and Su-34s flying from Hmeimim Air Base, Syria flew the first sorties.

Compared to the other air forces involved in anti-ISIS operations since 2014, the RAF carried out fewer airstrikes against ISIS’s oil industry because the UK government only approved attacks in Syria on December 2, 2015. In total, Shader GR4s conducted seven such strikes expending eight Brimstones and 19 Paveway IVs in the process, mostly at the Omar oilfield near Deir ez-Zor between December 2, 2015 and August 7, 2016. The Brimstones destroyed two cranes and a large engineering vehicle as well as a large convoy of oil trucks which was also was targeted by Paveway IVs. The rest of the Paveway IVs were used to target 14 wellheads on different days.

Over Raqqa

From January 10, 2016, Tornados began providing close air support and conducting airstrikes in support of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operating against ISIS in and around Raqqa, Syria. Up until March 21, 2016 they carried out nine airstrikes in the area using 14 Brimstone missiles and 16 Paveway IV LGBs. Brimstones scored hits on a vehicle, a supply truck and eleven cranes while the Paveway IVs were used against a truck, five buildings, a weapons cache, a large barracks, a tunnel complex and a command and control post. On November 6, 2016, SDF and their Kurdish allies launched Operation Wrath of Euphrates to liberate the city of Raqqa, Tabqa and 236 villages, strategic facilities and hills around them.

The US Air Force, US Navy and Armée de l’Air conducted hundreds of airstrikes in support of the SDF, especially during its final stage known as the great battle between June 6 and 17, 2017. Before the SDF entered the city on June 6, 2017, Tornado GR4s carried out three airstrikes against ISIS during which they fired a Brimstone at an armoured vehicle and also dropped a Paveway IV destroying an ISIS HQ. A pair of Enhanced Paveway IIs were used to destroy two buildings used by ISIS as an HQ.

During the great battle, Tornados attacked four times, firing two Brimstones at a building and a heavy machine gun. They also dropped four Paveway IVs on a building, two fighting positions and a strongpoint.

The RAF continued providing close air support to the SDF until Raqqa was officially liberated on October 17, 2017. Tornados conducted 30 more airstrikes during which they fired five Brimstones and 35 Paveway IVs. The Brimstones were used against four fighting positions and an ISIS group, while the Paveway IVs were used against a group of ISIS terrorists, 14 fighting teams, two buildings, a fort, four mortar teams, 12 sniper teams, a RPG team, a heavy machine gun, an observation post and two strong points.

Manbij, Syria

Operations Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla were SDF efforts to liberate Manbij and prevent ISIS using the town as an escape route to Turkey and also to stop supplies and reinforcements coming in the opposite direction. The SDF-led operation was launched on May 31 and lasted until August 27, 2016. In the days leading up to the operation’s launch, Tornado GR4s carried out two strikes against ISIS in and around Manbij. A Paveway IV was used to destroy a heavy mortar team on April 17, 2016 and four Enhanced Paveway IIs destroyed two IED and VBIED factories on May 30, 2016.

During the operation itself, Tornado GR4s carried out three more airstrikes using three Brimstones against a fighting position and a fighting group, two Paveway IVs against an artillery piece, a weapons cache, and eight Enhanced Paveway IIs against six buildings, an HQ and a weapons storage facility. The missions were flown on June 18, August 16 and August 25, 2016.

Tal Afar

ISIS captured Tal Afar, Iraq on June 16, 2014 after a two-day battle. Three years later, the Iraqi Army, Police and PMF launched the Tal Afar offensive on August 20, 2017 and managed to recapture the villages of Abra al-Najjar, Abra Hansh, al-Abra al-Kabira, and Abra al-Saghir, all located around the town, on the same day. The city was finally liberated on August 27, 2017 and the areas around it were declared ISIS-free four days later. The operation officially ended on September 2.

Before the offensive, Tornado GR4s had carried out 26 airstrikes against ISIS in the Tal Afar area during which they launched eight Brimstones at three fighting positions and five vehicles. Forty-two Paveway IVs were dropped on five vehicles, an engineering vehicle, a building, five fortified buildings, an HQ, a VBIED workshop, an ISIS training facility, an observation post, two command posts, two fighting positions, six machine gun positions or teams, five mortar teams, four weapon caches, an artillery piece, a rocket launcher and a tunnel complex, all between December 1, 2014 and August 4, 2016.

During the Tal Afar offensive conducted between August 20, 2017 and September 2, 2017, GR4s carried out nine airstrikes in support of Iraqi security forces during which six Brimstones and 12 Paveway IVs were employed against ISIS. The Brimstones scored hits on three vehicles, a VBIED, a fighting position and an excavator, while the Paveway IVs destroyed two vehicles, a VBIED, a building, two fighting groups, a fighting position, a group of suicide bombers, two mortar teams, a machine gun post and a VBIED workshop. On April 23, 2018, Shader Tornados logged another airstrike near Tal Afar using two Paveway IVs to target a building and a fighting position.

Al-Qa’im

The Iraqi border town of Al-Qaim was occupied by ISIS in August 2014 and was finally liberated by Iraqi security forces during the western Iraq campaign which was launched by Iraqi security forces and PMF on October 26, 2017. The campaign led to the liberation of various towns including Al-Qa’im on November 3, 2017.

Before the start of the western Iraq campaign, Tornados carried out 16 airstrikes against ISIS in Al-Qa’im and the surrounding area, firing 14 Brimstones and dropping 11 Paveway IVs between November 3, 2014 and September 30, 2017. The Brimstones destroyed six road vehicles, an excavator, two APCs, a checkpoint, a fortified building, an artillery weapon and a motorcycle. Paveway IVs destroyed three trucks, a bulldozer, two buildings, an ammunition stockpile and a VBIED workshop.

Tornado GR4s carried out two further airstrikes against ISIS during the western Iraq campaign itself, using three Paveway IVs against a command post, a group of ISIS fighters, two vehicles and a building over the first two days of November 2017. The town was liberated on November 3, but Tornados conducted another strike in the area six days later, hitting a vehicle with a Brimstone while two Paveway IVs were used to destroy an ammunition stockpile.

Rawa

As a part of the western Iraq campaign, Rawa was liberated on November 17, 2017: RAF GR4s attacked ISIS on seven occasions in the lead up to the liberation. Between December 5, 2014 and July 21, 2017 two Brimstones, seven Paveway IVs and an Enhanced Paveway II were used against ISIS.

The Brimstones scored hits on an APC and an anti-aircraft gun, while the Paveway IVs hit an observation post, a machine gun, and four buildings. The single Enhanced Paveway II destroyed a bunker on November 17, 2016.

Al-Hasakah

Al-Hasakah is a city in the far north-eastern corner of Syria and the capital of the Al-Hasakah governorate. By the summer of 2015 ISIS had captured 75% of the region while the rest was under control of the Syrian government. Anti- ISIS forces led by the mainly Kurdish Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG/People’s Protection Force) and Asayish, the Kurdish security organization vanquished ISIS during the battle of Al-Hasakah on August 1, 2015. ISIS maintained its efforts to re-capture the city.

Tornado GR4s provided close air support to the YPG and its allies, launching 11 airstrikes against ISIS near Al-Hasakah between January 12, 2016 and August 18, 2017. They used 13 Paveway IVs against two ISIS strongpoints, two fighting positions, two buildings, a mortar position, a tunnel entrance and a VBIED.

Over Al-Shaddadi

The Syrian Defence Force launched the Al- Shaddadi offensive or Operation Wrath of Khabur on February 16, 2016. The main goal of the operation was to capture the strategic city of Al-Shaddadi and the remainder of the southern Al-Hasakah governorate from ISIS. Over 1,941 square miles (2,400 square kilometres) of territory and more than 315 villages and hamlets, two oil fields, the towns of Al-Shaddadi, Sabaa, Al-Fadghami and Al-Arishah were liberated from ISIS before the operation ended on February 24, 2016.

Between February 25, 2016 and June 18, 2018, GR4s carried out five airstrikes against ISIS in and around Al-Shaddadi dropping 21 Paveway IVs against a vehicle, a mortar position, two buildings, one of which contained a sniper position, an HQ, a weapons storage and a gathering place for ISIS fighters.

Deir ez-Zor

In April 2014, ISIS launched a large-scale offensive against Syrian rebel forces in Deir ez-Zor governorate, capturing the capital, Deir ez-Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria and the seventh largest in the country. They held the region for more than three years. Between June 20, 2016 and November 4, 2017, Tornado GR4s carried out six airstrikes against ISIS in Deir ez-Zor and the nearby towns of Mayadin and At-Tibni. Three Brimstones were fired - at a VBIED, a motorcycle and a fighting group – and five Paveway IVs at a vehicle, an HQ, a fighting group, a mortar team and a tunnel system.

Operation Roundup

Operation Roundup was launched by coalition forces under Operation Inherent Resolve to wipe-out the remaining ISIS forces in Syria. Tornado GR4s carried out a total of 25 airstrikes in support of SDF near Abu-Kamal on the eastern border of Syria with Iraq. Between September 17, 2017 and November 12, 2018 three Brimstones were used against a vehicle and two VBIEDs, and 31 Paveway IVs against nine buildings, five fighting positions, a fighting group, three observation posts, two mortar teams, a weapons store, a machine gun position, a tunnel complex, a VBIED workshop, a compound and a command post.

Airstrikes near Hajin

Hajin, a small city in eastern Syria, was liberated by SDF on December 14, 2018, the last city in the country to be rid of ISIS. In 20 airstrikes, Tornados used two Brimstones against a vehicle and a mortar team as well as 33 Paveway IVs against two trucks, five buildings, six fighting positions, three groups of ISIS fighters, a mortar team, a bulldozer, an observation post, a command post, five strongpoints, a sniper team, a supply route, two anti-aircraft guns, a tunnel system, and an operating base.

Syrian Defence Forces continued harrying ISIS forces after the complete recapture of Hajin and Tornados carried out nine more airstrikes against ISIS supporting them. Thirteen Paveway IVs were used against eight buildings, three fighting positions and a VBIED between December 15 and 27, 2018.