During a pre-Christmas visit to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the Prime Minister the country’s military personnel had played a key role in the international offensive against the attempt to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State terror group.
“You are quite simply the pride of our nation and that is how you should be treated,” she told a crowd of around 100 troops and air crews assembled on an airstrip at the base, which has been a launchpad for more than 1,600 air strikes in the Middle East campaign.
Theresa May spent the night at RAF Akrotiri to give her the opportunity to spend time with some of the 1,500 personnel serving at the base.
And speaking in front of RAF Typhoon and Tornado jets parked on the windswept runway at the base yesterday morning, the Prime Minister said: “I’m delighted to be here in Cyprus today and to have the opportunity to say a big thank you on behalf of our whole nation for everything that you are doing to keep our country safe by working to bring peace and stability to this region.
“And I’m especially pleased to be here with you just before Christmas. At this special time of year, it’s even more important that you know just how vital your work is and just how much I appreciate the sacrifice that you and your families make in the service of our country.
“Here in Cyprus you are at the epicentre of so much of our military activity in the region.
“It’s from here that you have conducted more than 1,600 air strikes against Daesh [Islamic State] 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.
“Let’s be clear just what a difference that has made. Just three years ago, Daish declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a safe haven in which to carry out the most barbaric acts and from which to plot murder on our streets at home.
“But today, thanks in very large parts to your efforts, the so-called caliphate has been crushed and no longer holds significant territory in Iraq or Syria.
“You should be incredibly proud of that achievement.
“While we need to continue directly with the threat they still pose in the region, we also need to focus on training the Iraqi security forces so they can keep Daish out, which is why the work we are doing and you are supporting to train over 60,000 security personnel is so vital, as I saw first hand on my visit to Baghdad last month.
“It is here in Cyprus that you are sustaining our efforts to support the wider stability of our allies in the Middle East.”
Mrs May said Britain’s Armed Forces would continue to help stop Islamic State build new enclaves across the region.
She added: “It is you, your professionalism, your courage and your sacrifices that give meaning to the pledges we make as a nation. It is you who takedown our enemies and stand by our allies when the going gets tough.”
And she praised the RAF in its centenary year. She said: “As we enter a year that marks the centenary of the end of the First World War and of course the centenary of the Air Force, I hope you can take great pride in not just what you do but also what you are part of.
“From its origins as the first entirely separate and independent air force, fighting over the Western Front from April 1, 1918, to the leading edge fighter, strike and transport aircraft of today, those of you in the RAF are the present-day pioneers of the world’s most iconic air force.
“Every one of you here today is part of one of the greatest military forces in the World.
“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 you make in the service of others. As Prime Minister I will do everything I can to lead the nation in this endeavour. “