Britain made a second airdrop of aid to refugees in northern Iraq, officials said Tuesday, as Tornado fighter jets were readied to provide surveillance support for the humanitarian effort.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) was forced to abandon a drop on Monday because of fears of injuring people on the ground, but a repeat attempt overnight was successful, the Department for International Development said.
Two aid drops have now been made of water and solar lamps that can also be used to charge mobile phones.
Britain is also preparing to deploy a “small number” of Tornado jets to gather information to help deliver aid to civilians fleeing Islamic State (IS) militants, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office said.
“We have decided to pre-position a small number of Tornados in the region so that they could, if required, use their excellent surveillance capability to gather better situational awareness to help with humanitarian effort,” a spokeswoman said.
“This would be similar to the role the Tornado played in the UK earlier this year, gathering information on the areas affected by the severe floods.”
Ministers have repeatedly said they have no plans to join the United States in conducting military strikes on IS forces, but for some, the prospect of sending in jets raises the stakes.
The Times newspaper reported the Tornado move under a front page headline “Jets ready for combat”, and cited anonymous defence sources stating that the mission could “quickly evolve into a wider combat role”.
A number of retired generals have been calling for tougher British action, including General Richard Shirreff, who was Britain’s most senior officer in NATO until March and resigned from the army last week.
Shirreff told The Times that the government was “terrified” of deploying troops ahead of the general election in May, but warned: “The longer we sit on our hands and prevaricate, the more dangerous the situation is going to become.”
Any decision to take military action in Iraq, three years after British forces pulled out following an eight-year occupation with the United States, would likely require a vote in the House of Commons.
Parliament is on summer recess until September 1 and several MPs are calling for a recall. However, the government has said it has no plans to do this at the moment.
Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat last year when MPs refused to authorise air strikes in Syria.