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Britain to transport arms to Kurds as it bolsters Iraq aid

Britain is to transport military supplies from other states to Kurdish forces battling militants in northern Iraq and strengthen its aid mission there, the government said on Tuesday (Aug 12).

LONDON: Britain is to transport military supplies from other states to Kurdish forces battling militants in northern Iraq and strengthen its aid mission there, the government said on Tuesday (Aug 12).

London has "agreed to transport from other contributing states some critical military re-supplies for the Kurdish forces", a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron's office said. Downing Street did not comment on which states would be providing the supplies.

The statement was issued after British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired a meeting of the emergency response committee Cobra and following a telephone conversation between Cameron and Australian counterpart Tony Abbott.

Cameron has been under increasing pressure to recall parliament from its summer break to address the advance of Islamic State fighters.

A Financial Times editorial on Tuesday criticised the absence of the British political class as a "mortifying state of affairs". "Britain is complicit in Iraq's disarray," the editorial read. "Britain cannot craft an Iraq policy, or even decide what it thinks, while its political class is strewn across the beaches of Europe."

London has so far ruled out joining the United States in launching air strikes, but has increased its support efforts and missions to supply humanitarian aid to refugees.

On Tuesday, the airforce sent two Chinook helicopters to the region "for use if we decide we need further humanitarian relief options," Cameron's office said.

This adds to Tornado fighter jets which were sent to Cyprus to be ready if needed to provide surveillance support for the humanitarian aid effort to help thousands of people fleeing the jihadist fighters in northern Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence would not confirm how many aircraft had been sent, but the BBC reported three jets had taken off at 2:00 pm (1500 GMT).

'READY FOR COMBAT'

The Times newspaper reported the move to send Tornadoes under a front-page headline "Jets ready for combat", and cited anonymous defence sources stating that the mission could "quickly evolve into a wider combat role".

A number of retired generals have been calling for tougher British action, including General Richard Shirreff, who was Britain's most senior officer in NATO until March and resigned from the army last week.

Shirreff told The Times that the government was "terrified" of deploying troops ahead of the general election in May, but warned: "The longer we sit on our hands and prevaricate, the more dangerous the situation is going to become."

Any decision to take military action in Iraq, three years after British forces pulled out following an eight-year operation with the United States, would likely require a vote in the House of Commons.

Parliament is on summer recess until September 1 and several MPs are urging a recall. However, the government has said it has no plans to do so at the moment. The last time Cameron asked parliament to authorise military action, calling for air strikes against the Syrian government last year, he suffered a humiliating defeat as MPs voted it down.

A snap poll by broadcaster ITV showed that 45 percent of respondents supported Britain launching air strikes against Islamic militants, compared to 37 percent who were opposed. Half of respondents said that Britain should give asylum to Iraqi Christians at risk of being killed, while a large majority supported humanitarian aid and airlifts of Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.

Britain has completed three aid drops to Mount Sinjar, delivering 3,180 re-usable water containers, filled with a total of 15,900 litres of clean water, and 816 solar lanterns capable of charging mobile phones.

A Downing Street spokesperson said urgent planning to provide safe passage for those trapped on the mountainside would continue in coming days with the United States, Kurdish authorities and other partners.

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