The rise of the extremist Islamic group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) became front page news in 2014. After ISIS quickly and brutally took control of parts of Syria and Iraq, an international coalition formed to combat their progress.
Operation 'Shader' is the British contribution to this coalition. After humanitarian aid drops for communities threatened by ISIS in August 2014, this deployment quickly expanded.
The Royal Air Force (RAF), operating mainly from a base in Cyprus, has launched air strikes and carried out surveillance on ISIS targets. Aircraft used include Tornado GR4s and MQ-9 Reapers – unmanned remotely piloted aircraft often known as 'drones'. Soldiers of the British Army have also trained local opposition forces in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and troops of the Iraqi Army.
In December 2015, British military involvement expanded further. ISIS terrorists launched a series of coordinated attacks on Paris on 13 November that killed 130 people, with more seriously injured. A few weeks later MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of extending RAF air strikes against ISIS targets to Syria, with an additional eight RAF jets quickly sent to the region.
While ISIS has been pushed back in some areas, it remains a significant threat both within and outside the Middle East. Along with their coalition partners, the British armed forces are planning for an operation lasting years rather than months.
Included here is just some of the material relating to Operation 'Shader' and the involvement of the British armed forces against ISIS collected by IWM's Contemporary Conflict programme.
Two Tornado GR4s prepare to take off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on a night mission as part of Operation 'Shader', March 2015. The RAF’s Tornado GR4 is an old airframe that has been in service for many years, but is equipped with modern surveillance equipment and weaponry.
This headset was used by a Royal Air Force pilot of an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft on missions as part of Operation 'Shader'. It has only one earpiece as the three-man crews of the Reaper are able to talk directly to one another within a pod based in the UK, without the noise and operating conditions of a conventional aircraft. Like the Tornado, Reaper aircraft carry both surveillance equipment and weaponry.
Training local forces
A soldier of 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment trains Peshmerga soldiers in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, December 2014. This photograph, taken by Lance Corporal Robert Weideman, shows how some of the training took place in rural landscapes. Peshmerga forces – who are directly engaged in fighting ISIS forces – were also given a range of other training, from urban fighting to countering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
A sergeant of C Company, 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment: “When I, when I was teaching RTC and still now our infantry troops that want to join the infantry, they have to go through 26 weeks' worth of training and we have to sort of break that down. We've only got 3 to 4 weeks to train these Peshmerga to then go on to the frontline and fight for their lives in their country. So obviously you can, you can sort of relate to that. And the fact that we had to break down and prioritise the ranges we had to teach them how to shoot so that they were hitting the target, we had to then teach them rural integration, so section formations, platoon formations, how you would move across the area all the way up to platoon level exercise and also teaching the officers on how to lead.”
Training a soldier in 3 weeks
A sergeant of C Company, 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment was one of those deployed to train Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Here he explains how his unit had only a limited period to conduct the training and summarises what he taught the Peshmerga, many of whom had some experience of combat.
A familiar enemy
This suicide bomber target was used by soldiers of 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment to train local Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. A silhouette of a suicide bomber was used as ISIS is known to deploy them against the Peshmerga, making them a common threat.
These boots and identity tags were worn by Major Stephen Brooks of 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment when overseeing the training of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. His fear of losing his feet to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), when serving in Iraq for the first time in 2004, led him to attach the identity tags to the boots. On the soles he recorded where he served while wearing them, including three deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. However, this most recent tour to northern Iraq was purely for training purposes.
A lesson in progress
An instructor of the Royal Engineers gives a lesson in countering IEDs to a group of Peshmerga troops in northern Iraq, April 2015. Counter-IED training, like that in infantry skills, is often provided in short intensive courses of a few weeks. Local opposition forces are trained in how to identify areas vulnerable to the placement of IEDS, the ground signs of IEDs and how to search for them, including the use of detection equipment.