LONDON – The U.K. ruled out joining U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq as it stepped up efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees.
A recall of Parliament, which would be needed to sanction the use of military force, “is not on the cards,” said Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower. “Our focus is very much on the humanitarian effort,” she told reporters in London on Monday. “There is not a discussion underway on the U.K. playing a role in airstrikes.”
Cameron, who’s on vacation in Portugal, is staying in touch with his office in London and overseeing the U.K. response, Bower said. He hasn’t discussed Iraq with opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose support would probably be needed if a motion sanctioning airstrikes were to pass Parliament.
The Royal Air Force has deployed Tornado GR4 fighter jets fitted with surveillance equipment to the region to assist with the aid operation, Cameron’s office said in a statement. The planes, which are among a number of options offered to ministers, will be armed so they could defend themselves if fired on, a Ministry of Defence spokesman, who asked not to be named in line with ministry policy, said by phone.
U.S. strikes have slowed advances by Islamic State in the north of Iraq, though the al-Qaida breakaway group still holds swaths of territory there and in Syria, including Iraq’s biggest northern city and key installations such as dams and military outposts. Aid drops, in which the U.K. has joined, have been aimed at Iraqis from the Yezidi minority hiding from the militants in a mountainous region.
The British aid operation delivered one payload of water and lights two nights ago and had to abort a drop last night as people on the ground ran to the place where the supplies were going to land.
“The situation on the mountain was such that we were unable to carry out that aid drop because we were concerned it would put lives at risk,” Bower said. “We are looking to step up deliveries of aid.”
The Tornados, which would carry cameras and night imaging equipment in surveillance pods, would be able to help guide airplanes carrying aid to avoid any more fruitless 1,500-mile (2,400-km) round-trips, the MoD spokesman said.
Supplying weapons to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State may be considered, though British combat troops will not be going to fight in Iraq, Bower said. A meeting of the U.K.’s emergency Cobra committee this afternoon led by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond discussed the options.
“It was agreed that we should look at how the U.K. could play a role, alongside others, in getting equipment to Kurdish forces so they are better able to counter” the militants, Cameron’s office said.