11/13/2014: British Royal Air Force Tornadoes have taken off for the last time in Afghanistan. 31 Squadron is heading home after doing four tours in-country in recent years.
According to a piece published November 11, 2014 in The Telegraph:
Britain’s RAF’s Tornado GR4 jets have flown their final missions in Afghanistan and are heading back to the UK after five years of operations in the country.
Jets from 31 Squadron flew out of Kandahar airfield early on Tuesday morning and are heading back to their base at RAF Marham via Cyprus.
Their withdrawal marks another milestone in the rapid pull out of British combat forces from Afghanistan where they have been fighting to prop up the Afghan government since 2001. British troops left their main base in Helmand province ten days ago and all combat forces will have left the country by the end of the year.
The Tornado ground attack jets have flown surveillance missions and air strikes since they took over from RAF Harriers in June 2009.
Commanders hope the withdrawal from Afghanistan will now free up RAF resources which have been stretched by the new air campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Eight Tornados from II Squadron have been flying reconnaissance and bombing missions over northern Iraq for more than two months. RAF sources said there were no plans to increase the number of planes flying missions against Isil from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to fly over Iraq, but 31 Squadron was likely to be posted there to take over duties against Isil sometime next year.
Air Chf Mshl Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff, said: “The Tornado force contribution to this operation over the last 5 years has undoubtedly saved lives and should rightly be celebrated.
“Nevertheless, our operational focus and that of the Tornado force must now turn to Iraq where, as in Afghanistan, we will continue to support our allies.”
31 Squadron was first deployed to Afghanistan nearly a century ago, when it fought in the third Afghan War in 1919.