Operations in the Middle East

IS Offensive, Middle East 2010
Operation Pitting, RAF Brize Norton 2022
Operation Pitting, Kabul 2022

Operations in the Middle East
2003 - May 2011

Operation Pitting – Kabul airlift 2021

In 2021 the fall of Kabul, come to be known as the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, was the capture of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul by the Taliban on 15 August 2021, the culmination of a military offensive which began in May 2021. The city’s capture prompted an international airlift of fleeing civilians and took place hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country to Uzbekistan.

Large-scale evacuations of foreign citizens and some vulnerable Afghan citizens took place amid the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the War in Afghanistan and the Taliban offensive. After the fall of Kabul and the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai International Airport remained the only non-Taliban controlled route out of the country, being protected by several thousand NATO troops.

Although some countries had previously begun small-scale evacuation efforts in the months leading up to August 2021, such as the British Operation Pitting and the American Operation Allies Refuge, the collapse of the Afghan government occurred sooner than intelligence projections had estimated, and evacuation efforts became significantly more urgent. Several countries launched new evacuation operations, such as the Canadian Operation AEGIS, the Indian Operation Devi Shakti, and South Korean Operation Miracle.

The evacuation operations were one of the largest airlifts in history. Between 14 and 25 August, over 122,000 people were airlifted across the collation with TCW and TacATCU  teams providing key communications facilities and support throughout the operation. Thus in 2021 Operation Pitting, ended a 20-year commitment to operations in Afghanistan.


RAF Reaper UAV
Aleppo, Syria 2022
C130 at Erbil North Iraq, Op SHADER Air Bridge
Syrian refugees, 2021
Royal Air Force Typhoon, Gioia Dell Colle, Italy, Operation Ellamy.
RAF Airstrike, Libyan Coastal Radar Station, Brega 2011
F-35B Lightning, First Operational Sortie,15 June 2019

Operation DEFERENCE and Operation ELLAMY, Libya

Operation DEFERENCE was the evacuation of British and other civilians from Libya. At short order RAF Lyneham was tasked with providing 3 C130s to forward deploy to Malta, in preparation for the recovery of multiple Entitled Persons (EP’s) from Libya. It quickly became apparent that there were a significant number of persons stranded in the remoter parts of the Libyan desert. In response to this operational escalation, 47 Sqn switched the focus from Tripoli and Benghazi to begin a series of daytime missions to recover those stranded in the desert.

90SU and it force elements, including TCW, deployed HRT teams to Trapani, Gioia and Poggio using CC120 satellite, BBIAB and DII deployed systems, to support the operation. 

The RAF’s contribution, in some very hazardous operational conditions, supported by airborne C2 and ISTAR including E3D Sentry, was an outstanding success, demonstrating the speed, reach and flexibility of air power, and the quality and skill of the teams on the ground.

Operation ELLAMY is the operation to support the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect civilians and the civilian population under threat of attack. To achieve this, Control of the Air was essential to provide freedom of operation for a wide range of air operations. Within 18 hours of the identification of Gioia del Colle as the Deployed Operating Base, the RAF had deployed 10 Typhoons, and the early entry support staff and equipment, much of which provided by TCW, enabling the Expeditionary Air Wing Commander and his staff, to manage the flow of equipment and personnel into the Deployed Operating Base.

Sorties, involving 3000-mile round trips, were the longest attack missions ever flown by the RAF from the UK. They are an excellent example of the reach and responsiveness of contemporary air power. The Tornados then forward deployed to Gioia Del Colle and shifted focus to Combat ISTAR focussing direct action against Libyan armour, using the combination of the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod and the Litening 3 targeting pod with Dual Mode Brimstone anti-armour air-to-ground missiles and Paveway IV bombs.

Airborne Command and Control capability provided by the E3D Sentry combined with the critical intelligence collection capability of the Nimrod R1 and Sentinel R1 and the persistence delivered by VC-10 and Tristar tankers, were also critical to the operation.

With the ongoing threat of conflict in the middle east, the main points which Operation ELLAMY illustrates is that it demonstrated the flexibility and effectiveness of air power as a tool of political and foreign policy. As the political the crisis in Libya threatened to turn into humanitarian disaster, only the combination of maritime power transiting through the area and air power that could be deployed quickly enough was able to affect events.

The second is that the level of expertise that the RAF has developed over 20 years of continuous operations has been critical to the translation of political intent into operational results, and to the prosecution of the operation at Alliance level. This reflects the professional links and relationships that has developed across the Atlantic and within NATO; this is clearly shown by the RAF’s and its force enablers ability to provide Combined Air Operations Centres and in Joint and Coalition HQs.



Operation SHADER, Syria

Iraqi Yazidi People from Sinjar, enter Northern Iraq, Aug. 2014
RAF Rivet Joint, Iraq
90SU - TCW, M4 mobile data link

Operation SHADER began on the 9 August 2014, when the Royal Air Force began a series of humanitarian aid airdrops onto Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq.

The airdrops were ordered following the genocide of the Yazidi people and other ethnic minorities by Daesh in Northern Iraq, who were looking to create a Calafate in the area. This led to the Yazidi people fleeing onto the mountainside to escape Daesh.  Following the conclusion of the aid drops, the operation quickly changed to become the UK element in the US lead coalition that began the campaign to destroy Daesh.

Royal Air Force C-130s carried out seven successful aid drops and delivered vital water, shelter and supplies to the Yazidi people trapped on the mountain at the time.

Following the aid drops, the RAF changed focus to surveillance an undertaking that saw the RC-135 Rivet Joint deployed on its first ever operational sortie.  Simultaneously, Tornado GR4’s, Reaper, Sentinel and E-3D Sentries were also in operation across theatre.  Intelligence gathered resulted in the first airstrike taking place on 30 September 2014.

90SU and its force elements have supported each phase of the operation. With teams deployed in Iraq, Cyprus and across the Area of Operations. Equipment used ranged from High readiness Teams (HRT), CC120 satcom terminals, Reacher, Falcon nodes, and DII deployed. 

During this time many of the aircraft operating on Op SHADER have changed, mainly because of the successes achieved.  One of the most notable changes however has seen the withdrawal of Tornados from RAF service, and their replacement by the Typhoon FGR4 aircraft.  The Typhoons are now mainly conducting surveillance taskings with occasional air strikes as targets are identified. However, the need for secure communications and data links has continued with Tactical Communications Wing support, TCW being the expeditionary arm of 90SU which generates Force Elements @Readiness (FE@R) continues to enable Information ‘Advantage for Air’s’ deployed operational commanders.

RAF Activities and Background