Britain, Denmark Join Coalition Against Islamic State

The two NATO countries support the air campaign over Iraq but stop short of participating in strikes against Syria.

A British Tornado fighter jet flies over the Royal International Air Tattoo at Gloucestershire, England, July 9, 2012
A British Tornado fighter jet flies over the Royal International Air Tattoo at Gloucestershire, England, July 9, 2012 (Airwolfhound)

Denmark and the United Kingdom joined an international coalition against Islamic State militants on Friday but like Belgium and the Netherlands, which announced they would send F-16 fighter jets to support the air campaign a day earlier, the NATO countries stopped short of participating in attacks on Syria.

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told a news conference in Copenhagen her country would contribute seven F-16s to the military effort against the radical Islamist group that controls an arc of territory from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.

Britain’s parliament was expected to approve Prime Minister David Cameron’s request for military action in Iraq later in the day. Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, told the BBC six Tornado jets will be deployed to Iraq. Cameron assured lawmakers no British troops would be involved in a combat role but said soldiers were needed to guide airstrikes and possibly train Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

The opposition Labour Party, which blocked British military intervention in Syria last year, hesitated to back strikes outside Iraq even as the Islamic State militants have effectively eradicated the border between the two Middle Eastern countries that was drawn up by British and French imperialists a century ago.

The prime minister insisted there was “no legal barrier” to expanding the campaign into Syria but Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said there were “outstanding questions” about whether that wouldn’t require cooperating with the regime of President Bashar Assad. He also argued that whereas Iraq’s government had asked other countries to help it battle the militants, action in Syria would require an international mandate.

The ruling Labor Party in the Netherlands ruled out supporting Arab and American airstrikes in Syria for the same reason.

However, a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing strikes is likely to be blocked by Russia, an ally of the Assad regime.

The United States first launched airstrikes against the Iraqi militants in August when they menaced the territory of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north of the country. Western powers, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, later supplied weapons to the Kurds to help them fend off the Islamic State’s attacks.

Earlier this week, American cruise missiles and warplanes, launches from navy ships and an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea as well as bases in allied Arab monarchies, struck Islamic State targets in Syria. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the attacks while Qatar provided logistical support.