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  1. ITV Report

RAF Tornados to continue air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq

RAF Tornados will continue to carry out air strikes against so-called Islamic State until March 2017, the Defence Secretary has announced.

RAF Tornados pictured during combat missions against IS. Credit: PA Wire

Michael Fallon, speaking on a trip to Iraq, said the strikes had helped Iraqi forces push militants out of key towns.

"We want to ensure we maintain this crucial operational tempo and so we will extend the lifetime of Number 12 Squadron for a further year to March 2017," he said.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon with his Iraqi counterpart Khaled al-Obeidi. Credit: APTN

The squadron of Tornado GR4 fighter bombers was originally due to be disbanded last March and replaced with a squadron of Typhoon air defence fighters.

But following the launch of airstrikes against the terror group last September, David Cameron announced they would carry on until March 2016 so they could continue in their specialist ground-attack role.

The second extension for the fighter bombers would ensure the RAF retained "the essential precision firepower, intelligence and surveillance" capabilities needed for operations against IS, Mr Fallon said.

So-called Islamic State captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria last year. Credit: Reuters

RAF Tornados have carried out hundreds of strikes, helping Iraqi forces push back IS from the Kurdish region and out of key towns such as Tikrit and Bayji.

We want to ensure we maintain this crucial operational tempo and so we will extend the lifetime of Number 12 Squadron for a further year to March 2017.

This will allow us to sustain our effort, helping the Iraqis lead the fight on the ground.

– Defence Secretary Michael Fallon
The Tornado has been the RAF's workhorse attack aircraft since 1990. Credit: PA

The Tornado GR4 is reaching the end of its planned service life, and the all-weather attack and reconnaissance aircraft has borne the brunt of many of the RAF's major operations since 1990.

1,162
Missions in Iraq against IS, resulting in 251 strikes.

In these strikes, 86 Brimstone missiles and 214 Paveway IV bombs have been deployed, the MoD says.