Reaper drone pilots who bombed and targeted Islamic State (IS) will be awarded military medals for their work as part of Operation Shader, the Defence Secretary has announced.
During the first presentation of new medals marking the campaign, which feature a striped grey, light blue, dark blue and red ribbon, Gavin Williamson confirmed the eligibility criteria has been widened.
Traditionally, medals are awarded based on the level of risk faced by the individual, with this considered or defined as being exposed to physical danger.
With 36 military personnel from across all three services presented with the Operation Shader medals on Wednesday, Mr Williamson said it is easy to forget how much has been achieved since the UK joined the anti-IS effort four years ago.
Speaking to the Press Association after the ceremony held in the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, he said: “This is the first campaign medal given in 15 years, and it really goes to show how important the campaign has been.
“People do think Iraq and Syria are far, far away, but actually Daesh (another term for IS) were using that area as a platform to launch attacks in Britain – we have suffered the consequence of their actions.
“And it goes to show how important our armed forces are, it is about keeping Britain safe even if they’re taking action in the field many thousands of miles away.
“It also goes to show the changing nature of warfare – the fact that we are recognising Reaper pilots who played such an important role in making sure that this campaign has been a success.”
Reaper drone pilots, sensor operators and mission intelligence co-ordinators are based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where they operate the unmanned air vehicles used to carry out strikes, gather intelligence and conduct surveillance.
Mr Williamson confirmed the Queen has expanded the medal criteria to include personnel outside of the conventional area of operations in Iraq and Syria, including civilians.
The Defence Secretary added that it is important to adapt medallion recognition as the nature of warfare also changes and develops.
In 2014, IS blitzed across vast swathes of Syria – seizing Raqqa – before spreading into north and western Iraq, capturing Mosul and even advancing to the edges of Baghdad.
Since then the US-led 77-member global coalition has worked to destroy the extremists – seeing Mosul liberated in July last year and Raqqa in October as result of the efforts.
More than 1,400 British Forces are currently deployed in the region as part of ongoing efforts by the wider coalition to eradicate the group.
Of Britain’s decision to join the campaign, the Defence Secretary told the ceremony: “I remember so many people in the House of Commons saying no matter what we did it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference, it wouldn’t turn the tide, it wouldn’t actually have an effect.
“And how wrong they were, and the reason they were wrong and proven to not understand the situation is because of what you did, and the fact that you were willing to do so much to stop what was a tide of evil.
“People who didn’t value human life, who didn’t share our values and were quite willing to do the most atrocious of things.”
Mr Williamson told those at the ceremony that they have made a difference, highlighting how 77,000 Iraqi Security Services and Peshmerga have been trained in infantry skills, counter-IED measures and medical techniques, and more than 1,700 air strikes carried out.
“IS has been diminished and degraded, and that is down to you, this is your day,” he added.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff General Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier and Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Tony Radakin were also at the ceremony.