The Iraqi military has asked the UK to provide thermobaric missiles, which make the air explode around their targets, in order to dislodge Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from their positions in the besieged city of Mosul.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to the Guardian on Friday that defense minister Mike Penning had met with Iraqi officials to discuss the weapons, but added that the UK does not hold such arms and that any requests for ordnance are processed at coalition level rather than by specific allies.
Britain has reportedly used the weapons in Afghanistan and it is suggested their main use will be to burn jihadists out of their bunker and tunnel complexes.
“Thermobaric weapons work on the principle of finely powdered fuel scattered by a charge and then ignited,” Justin Bronk, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank told the Guardian.
“The idea is that the entire explosive weight in a warhead can be a fuel rather than a conventional explosive mixture which is around 30 percent fuel and 70 percent oxidizer.”
He said the detonation killed by creating a “powerful and extremely fast blast pressure wave which they create on ignition, as well as the secondary effect of almost instantly sucking up all the oxygen in the immediate vicinity of the blast.”
“Both of these effects are significantly enhanced when they occur in confined spaces, which is why they are particularly lethal against tunnels and bunker complexes,” he said.
An MoD spokesman talked down the idea that the UK would or could provide the requested weaponry.
“The UK does not have thermobaric weapons and will not provide them to third parties. All requests for assistance and equipment for Iraq are coordinated through the coalition against Daesh [IS],” he said.