Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said those who harm Britain’s armed forces can expect a “strong response” as the US launched air strikes in Iraq following the death of a British army medic.
Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, 26, who served as a Reserve with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, died after a dozen missiles were fired at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday.
The US air strikes targeted the Iranian-backed Shia militia members who are thought to have been behind the deadly rocket attack, according to a US official.
Two US servicemen were also killed in the attack, and another 14 military personnel were injured, according to the US Defence Department, which described the action as defensive precision strikes on five weapon storage facilities.
“The coalition stands shoulder to shoulder in Iraq. Our forces work together to help the country resist the malign activity of terrorists,” Mr Wallace said in a statement.
“When we and others are attacked we reserve the right to defend ourselves.
“We support the right of the United States to defend themselves, as they have done tonight.
“We reiterate that those who seek to harm our armed forces can expect to receive a strong response.”
Minister for Defence People and Veterans, @JohnnyMercerUK, has paid tribute in the House to the service person who was tragically killed at Camp Taji in Iraq yesterday: “It is a timely reminder of the ongoing and extraordinary commitment of the men and women of our Armed Forces.” pic.twitter.com/LcjNZcHrcm
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 12, 2020
L/Cpl Gillon was killed while volunteering as part of the Irish Guards Battle Group during their deployment to Iraq, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
She joined the regiment in September 2015 as a Combat Medical Technician, before qualifying as a Class 1 Combat Medical Technician in 2018.
Lieutenant Colonel William Leek, Commanding Officer Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, said she was a “hugely popular character”, adding he was “proud and humbled” to have served alongside her.
I spoke to @SecPompeo last night about cowardly attack on Coalition base. We will defend against these deplorable acts & hold those responsible to account. My thoughts are with the families of those killed https://t.co/MBfp9fv5X8
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) March 12, 2020
He said: “She was a larger than life soldier who was determined to deploy on operations, help others, develop herself and gain practical experience.
“She had already achieved a great deal in her relatively short time with us and it was abundantly clear that she was destined for great things in her civilian and military careers. Her loss is keenly felt.
“My deepest condolences go to her family and loved ones. They are in my thoughts and prayers, and those of the wider Regimental family.”
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the attack would “not be tolerated”, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a “cowardly” act.
He added: “We will defend against these deplorable acts and hold those responsible to account.”
Major General Celia Harvey, the Deputy Commander Field Army, said L/Cpl Gillon was fulfilling a “long-term ambition” to serve on an operational tour in Iraq.
As I stated earlier, the United States will not tolerate Iran-backed attacks against our people, our interests, and our Allies. All options are on the table as we work with our partners to bring the perpetrators to justice, and maintain deterrence.
— Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) March 12, 2020
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), told a US Senate committee in Washington he suspected Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah was to blame because it was the “only group known” to have carried out similar attacks.
The attack coincided with what would have been the birthday of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in January.
The same month, the MoD told the PA news agency there were around 400 personnel in Iraq across three main bases – Camp Taji near Baghdad, Union III in Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for a rocket attack on a military base in Kirkuk in December that killed a US contractor, prompting American military strikes in response.
It led to protests at the US embassy in Baghdad, which was followed on January 3 by the air strike that killed Gen Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, of which Kataib Hezbollah is a member.