Britain's expanding role in Iraq to last months: minister

AFP

London (AFP) - Britain is stepping up its role in Iraq beyond a humanitarian mission and the involvement is set to last months, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said in comments published Monday.

"This is not simply a humanitarian mission," Fallon said in comments run in The Times newspaper.

"We and other countries in Europe are determined to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism that ISIL (Islamic State) is promoting."

Speaking to RAF pilots and other service personnel during a visit to an RAF base in Cyprus, the defence minister said: "there may well now be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save life (and) protect people and we are going to need all of you again," The Guardian daily reported.

A spokesman for the defence ministry confirmed the comments.

However, the spokesman noted that Fallon had spoken on Saturday, before the release of comments by Prime Minister David Cameron that appeared to back some degree of military support but ruled out "sending armies to fight or occupy".

The Times reported that a small number of British soldiers briefly went into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq last week to prepare for a possible deployment of Chinook helicopters to save members of the Yazidi religious minority from a mountainside.

Six Tornado jets and a spy plane had begun flying beyond the Kurdish region to provide information on jihadists' movements that could be used in planning Iraqi military attacks in a "development that brings Britain closer to a direct combat role," the newspaper said.