The Islamic State terror group has been "crushed" in Iraq and Syria with the efforts of Britain's armed forces, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said today during a surprise Christmas visit to troops in Cyprus.
May praised the Royal Air Force (RAF) men and women at Britain's Akrotiri base in the country for their key role on Operation Shader, the codename for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), and diminishing the hold of terrorists in the Middle East.
"Just three years ago, Daesh [ISIS] declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a safe haven in which to carry out the most barbaric acts and in which to plot murder on our streets at home," she said.
"But today, thanks in very large part to your efforts, the so-called caliphate has been crushed and no longer holds significant territory in Iraq and Syria. You should be incredibly proud of that achievement," May said.
The RAF base in Cyprus is at the heart of the UK's operations in Iraq and Syria.
It is home to 2,000 military personnel and has been the launch point for more than 1,300 sorties to Iraq and more than 250 to Syria since the US-led action against ISIS began.
"It's from here that you have conducted more than 1,600 air strikes against Daesh targets and supported more than 1,450 personnel working with our allies and partners in Jordan and Iraq to fight Daesh and prevent its re-emergence," she said.
Standing in front of a Typhoon fighter jet to speak to 100 servicemen and women at RAF Akrotiri, May said that British military intervention was still needed in the region to ensure the terror group did not regroup or give way to a splinter force.
Her Voyager plane landed at Akrotiri last night after she flew in from Warsaw following talks with her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki.
In her six-minute speech at the windswept Mediterranean airbase, May hailed the RAF on the eve of its centenary, which is celebrated in 2018.
"I hope that as a nation in this special year ahead we can collectively raise the national consciousness of the work you do and the sacrifices that you make in the service of others.
As Prime Minister, I will do everything I can to lead the nation in this endeavour, for you are quite simply the pride of our nation, and that is how you should be treated," she said.
As part of her "big thank you" message to the troops, the British PM praised the troops for taking down enemies and standing by allies when the going gets tough.
She warned that ISIS would still seek "new ungoverned spaces from which to plot and carry out attack" and that it was vital for Britain to continue to support its allies in the Middle East.