On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

  • 15 January 2015
  • From the section UK

How is progress measured on board the US aircraft carrier which is playing a key role in the fight against Islamic State?

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, plying the waters of the Gulf, represents a big slice of the coalition effort being used to pound the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and Iraq - an onslaught that has been going on for the best part of five months now.

It is a floating town of more than 5,000 souls and 60 fighter aircraft engaged in a costly and complex campaign.

Each time it launches one of its jets, catapulting it over the green waters south of Iran, the event is so dramatic and inherently dangerous that it would be understandable if many a spectator forgot the question - is this air offensive working?

It's extremely hard for Western reporters to seek the answers to that on the ground, in Mosul or Raqqa. But we can be on board the carrier, speaking to those carrying out this operation, as I was for four days, gauging their sense of the task, its challenges, and whether it's achieving results.

Distinctly slow

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CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?

  • 18 December 2014
  • From the section UK
Mock-up of prisoner in handcuffs

In March 2004, a Boeing 737, registration number N313P, lifted off from Baghdad International Airport with two prisoners on board - captured by the SAS after a shoot-out in the city.

They were on their way to Bagram prison, in Afghanistan.

Read full article CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?

'Morale poor' among UK crews at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

  • 5 December 2014
  • From the section UK
Tornado GR4 at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus
Tornados have been on missions against IS since early autumn

Raids against Islamic State are being conducted from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus "with broken jets and tired and fed-up people", BBC Newsnight has been told.

In a letter, a serviceman said the base was being neglected, morale was poor and ground crews had taken to eating humanitarian rations meant for Iraqis.

Read full article 'Morale poor' among UK crews at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

HMS Queen Elizabeth: The sensitive aircraft carrier issue

  • 27 November 2014
  • From the section UK
HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth was formally named earlier this year

It's quite likely that the first squadron of fighters to operate from the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier will belong to the US Marines rather than Britain, naval insiders have told me.

Asked about such a scenario on Newsnight, General Lord David Richards, until earlier this year the UK's top serviceman, said it "would make good sense".

Read full article HMS Queen Elizabeth: The sensitive aircraft carrier issue

Syria's war: Stats, graphs and maps

Some estimates suggest about 110,000 people have been killed in Syria's war since 2011. The UN puts the figure closer to 200,000.

About 10 millions Syrians are thought to have been displaced, many of them fleeing into neighbouring countries.

Read full article Syria's war: Stats, graphs and maps

New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

  • 30 October 2014
  • From the section World

How do you keep Western countries focused on their security and the need to spend more on it at a time of austerity?

That is Jens Stoltenberg's "main responsibility", he says, having taken over as the secretary general of Nato at the start of October.

Read full article New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Smoke rises after an airstrike on Kobane
Kobane has been hit by dozens of airstrikes

After a month of fighting, defenders of Kobane say Islamic State (IS) has been virtually driven out of the Syrian town. So what has been learned from this battle?

1. Kobane is not "strategically" important.

Read full article Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State (IS) fighters renewed their advance in the Syrian border town of Kobane on Wednesday, with the US warning that air strikes alone cannot save it.

The air campaign by the US-led coalition is arguably inefficient, with planes based far away from their targets.

Read full article Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

The United Nations General Assembly provided a chance for scores of key meetings between world leaders on its sidelines.

Interestingly, of all those held by US President Barack Obama, the longest was reckoned to be with Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Read full article Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

Islamic State: Unlikely alliances forming in fight against threat

Composite picture of US troops and IS fighters

This week the United States will use meetings on the margins of the UN General Assembly to finalise its coalition for fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

The White House has spoken of rallying 40 countries to the cause, but since this planned group cuts across the Sunni/Shia divide, as well as harnessing long-standing Middle East rivals, many have asked whether it's really possible.

Read full article Islamic State: Unlikely alliances forming in fight against threat

About Mark

Mark has covered diplomatic and defence matters for more than 20 years at the BBC.

His major stories have included: the 1990 invasion of Iraq and subsequent Desert Storm campaign; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Oslo peace process in the Middle East; the wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s as well as the diplomacy that stopped them; the Second Palestinian Intifada; 9/11 and its aftermath; the Coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring.

Before joining the BBC as a reporter he was Defence correspondent for The Independent newspaper for four years, covering the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He is also the author of several books on military matters, both current and historical. Mark read International Relations at the London School of Economics and served for a short time in the British Army.