UK officials say British pilots have conducted Syria strikes

LONDON: British pilots have conducted air strikes on targets in Syria while embedded with other military forces fighting the Islamic State group, Britain's Ministry of Defense said Friday.

Defense officials confirmed that pilots acting under the command of other forces, such as the United States and Canada, have conducted the strikes. The admission was made after a Freedom of Information request by the human rights group Reprieve. Britain's Parliament has only approved strikes on neighboring Iraq.

"The UK itself is not conducting air strikes in Syria," the ministry said in statement. "But we do have a long-standing embed program with allies, where small numbers of U.K. personnel act under the command of host nations."

Britain has been carrying out surveillance and air-to-air refueling over Syria. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has argued recently that lawmakers should also consider backing airstrikes.

The defense ministry said that although there are currently no British pilots operating in this region, "when embedded, U.K. personnel are effectively operating as foreign troops." The number of pilots who were operating as foreign troops is described as single figures. The number of embeds fluctuates as allied units move in and out.

Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, said the current debate over whether British troops should take part in action in Syria is "somewhat obsolete," given that U.K. military personnel have already taken part.

"We need an open and honest debate about UK involvement in Iraq and Syria," Gibson said. "We can't have that, though, until the U.K. comes clean about what actions its personnel are already undertaking."