Questions raised over RAF Chinooks' role in Iraq rescue operation

RAF Chinook helicopter Photo: Reuters

When four RAF Chinooks arrive at the British base on Cyprus today, their mission over the coming days remains unclear.

The government confirmed yesterday that the workhorse of the RAF rotary fleet is being added to the UK military hardware now heading east towards Iraq.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town Credit: Reuters

C-130 transport lanes were sent first, then Tornado jets, now Chinook helicopters.

But what they will do when get there has not yet been agreed.

Firstly, the UK government needs to agree access to a military base which is closer to the Sinjar mountains.

The obvious choice would be a base of our NATO ally, Turkey, which shares a border with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Kurdish peshmerga troops unload boxes of provisions at their base in the Iraqi's Dukra village Credit: Reuters

Next they will need to be told whether they are dropping supplies (which they can do more accurately than a transport plane can) or whether they will be part of a mass evacuation mission.

There is currently only one Iraqi helicopter trying to free Yazidi peoples from their misery on top the mountain.

One of those desperately needed aircraft crashed yesterday killing the pilot and injuring those it was trying to rescue.

The British Chinooks can carry in excess of 70 passengers each. They could therefore make a limited but welcome dent in the rescue operation of thousands of people.

But given how many desperate souls are racing toward such helicopters, the RAF would first need to secure the safety of the five crew on board, and find some way to prioritise those refugees who need to leave.

An ITV News poll yesterday found that 73% of people support British helicopters taking part in rescue missions.

In Whitehall, ministers have been stressing that the UK's contribution to this threatened genocide remains a humanitarian mission - not a combat one.

So as the Chinook pilots touch down at Akrotiri air base this morning, there are still more questions than answers about what they will be doing next. And where they will go.

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