Early on Thursday morning, four RAF Tornado jets left the Akrotiri base in Cyprus and headed out to strike oil fields in eastern Syria. They were the first air strikes that the U.K. has ever conducted against ISIS, and were made possible by a vote in Parliament a day earlier.
“All four Tornados have now successfully returned,” Defense Minister Michael Fallon told the BBC on Thursday, “and we will be assessing later this morning the actual damage done.”
The ten-hour-long debate that preceded the vote was contentious, and led Prime Minister David Cameron to call Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn and others worried about the potential ramifications of getting involved in an unquestionably complicated international affair — especially after Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan — “a bunch of terrorist sympathizers,” a comment that went over about as well as you might think.
Despite the remarks, 397 ministers in the House of Commons sided with Cameron, who called ISIS militants “woman-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters”; 223 were against military action in Syria. Corbyn was not impressed. “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands public opposition to his ill thought-out rush to war is growing,” he said during the debate, “and wants to hold the vote before it slips from his hands.”
“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,” President Obama said in a statement on Wednesday.
British forces aren’t getting so involved that the military capacity of those fighting ISIS in Syria has increased dramatically, but it does bring French president Francois Hollande’s hopes for symbolically advantageous Western Avengers terrorism-fighting force closer to reality. Germany plans to vote on whether to send about 1,200 support troops to Syria soon.
Cameron has said repeatedly that he plans on sending no ground troops to Syria — but that no one should expect the battle against ISIS to be won anytime soon. “We are going to need to be patient and persistent,” he said. “This is going to take time.”
Meanwhile, Russia, which keeps frustrating the U.S. and its allies by refusing to decide if it is more interested in helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or fighting ISIS, is still very angry at Turkey for shooting down one of its jets. Russian president Vladimir Putin refuses to take any of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan’s calls, and Russian officials keep finding new ways to insult Turkey. On Wednesday, according to Reuters, Russia accused Erdogan’s family of personally profiting from ISIS oil smuggling. Putin ordered a bunch of sanctions to be placed against Turkey — banning many Turkish agricultural goods — and warned that he is just getting started. “If anyone thinks that having committed this awful war crime, the murder of our people, that they are going to get away with tomatoes or some restrictions on construction and other sectors, they are sorely mistaken,” he said during a very long state-of-the-union address on Thursday. “We will be reminding [them] again about what they’ve done and they’ll be regretting it — we know what to do.”