F-35 fighter jets .
(photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)
WASHINGTON -- With encouragement from France and the United States, the House of Commons on Wednesday voted to extend the United Kingdom's air assault against Islamic State to Syria, where the group has metastasized and taken refuge since 2013.
The vote allows UK Prime Minister David Cameron to order the immediate initiation of strikes in Syrian territory, after winning support for strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq last year. Indeed, within just two hours of the vote, British fighter jets had taken off in pairs from their base in Cyprus, reportedly bound for Syria.
Royal Air Force Typhoons will work in coordination with air power from over half a dozen allied nations, including France, the US, Australia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“These women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters, they are hijacking the peaceful religion of Islam for their warped ends," Cameron said in his plea for parliamentary support on Wednesday morning. "These people are not Muslims, they are outlaws from Islam, and we must stand with our Muslim friends here and around the world as they reclaim their religion from these terrorists."
The well-financed terrorist organization, which orchestrated a sophisticated attack on Paris last month, seeks to strike the West "because of who we are," Cameron said, "not because of what we do." He warned of a similar strike in London unless Britain stood up to defend itself and its citizens around the world.
Over 60 members of Cameron's opposition in the Labour Party crossed the aisle to support the prime minister, even as the specter of the Iraq war loomed on Whitehall and anti-war protesters chanted loudly enough outside to be heard in the parliament's chambers.
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond said that a war against Islamic State could not be won with airpower alone, and noted that a ground assault on Raqqa– the group's nominal capital– could be years away. But airstrikes would make a difference, he argued, and would keep Great Britain safe.
"The decision tonight is this," Hammond said: "Do we bring the fight to them, or do we wait for them to bring the fight to us?"
The vote was cast after ten and a half hours of debate, and resulted in a tally of 397 in favor versus 223 against.
"Since the beginning of the counter-ISIL campaign the United Kingdom has been one of our most valued partners in fighting ISIL [Islamic State]," US President Barack Obama said in a statement on Wednesday night, welcoming the vote.
"We look forward to having British forces flying with the coalition over Syria, and will work to integrate them into our Coalition Air Tasking Orders as quickly as possible," he added.