British soldiers battling Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria have been honoured with a new campaign medal to recognise their valour, the Defence Secretary has announced.
And for the first time Royal Air Force drone pilots will also be eligible for the gallantry medals, despite being located thousands of miles away from the combat zone.
The new silver Operation Shader medal will recognise the “emotional investment” made by remote drone operators and reflects the changing nature of warfare.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement on Wednesday as he presented medals to 36 sailors, soldiers and air crew.
He said a clasp version of the medal would also be given to UK-based drone pilots and intelligence co-ordinators.
The Operation Shader medal is the first operational service medal to be created since 2003.
Traditionally, operational service medals are awarded to individuals who have completed service in a specific campaign where they were exposed to physical danger.
But speaking at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall after the presentation ceremony, Williamson said: “It goes to show how important our armed forces are – it is about keeping Britain safe even if they’re taking action in the field many thousands of miles away.”
More than 1,400 British personnel are involved in the coalition formed in 2014 to defeat IS.
Personnel based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire fly armed and unmanned US-made Reaper drones used to carry out strikes and surveillance against IS.
The head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said Reaper crews, although not deployed to areas where they are exposed to physical danger, have put in a “huge effort”.