David Cameron announced the deployment of two more RAF Tornado fighter bombers to join the attacks on Islamic State (IS) militants as he made a surprise visit to the base where they are operating. The Prime Minister, arriving at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, also promised that the operational life of the aircraft - which was due to be withdrawn from service next year - would be extended until 2016.
The two additional Tornado GR4s will lift the number deployed to eight, enabling them to sustain the tempo of sorties at around two a day. The RAF has now carried out a series of strikes on IS forces since Parliament authorised British involvement in the international military campaign last week.
The latest saw Brimstone missiles and Paveway bombs deployed in support of Kurdish troops advancing on extremists in the north west of the country. Witnesses on the ground in Rabia, close to the border with Syria, said a female pilot was in direct contact with Peshmerga commanders before unleashing a strike on 20-30 insurgents holed up in a hospital.
The proximity of the attack to Syria could fuel calls for the mission to be extended into that country. However, the Government has made clear that hitting IS strongholds on that side of the border would require a fresh vote by MPs. The jets from 2 Squadron have been in Cyprus since August, but until last week were restricted to reconnaissance patrols.
The squadron had been due to be disbanded as a Tornado squadron in March 2015 and to re-equip with new Typhoon fighters based at RAF Lossiemouth. Mr Cameron said: "Less than a week into combat operations in Iraq, I wanted to come here to thank our troops for the vital work they're doing to defeat these barbaric Isil terrorists who threaten security not just in Iraq, Syria and the region but on the streets of Britain too.
"It's an opportunity to hear directly from them about their operations, the challenges they face and what support they need. They've already flown a dozen sorties and carried out strikes on four of those missions, successfully hitting eight targets and helping Iraqi forces hold territory but also push back Isil too.
"We want to make sure that we can keep up this tempo in the days ahead so we will deploy a further two Tornados to Akrotiri in the next 24 hours. We will also extend the lifetime of Number Two Squadron for a further year to April 2016 to ensure we can sustain this effort in the months ahead.
"Obviously, these operations are just one element of our strategy. We are also working hard to deliver a training package for Iraqi forces with advisers in Iraq now to assess their needs. But today is really about thanking our brave airmen and women. We should never forget the sacrifices they make and the risks they take to make Britain a safer home for all of us and our families."
Cameron's announcement came on the same day that the UN published a report suggesting that around 10,000 civilians had dies in Iraq since the start of the year.