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LISTEN: The Man Who Picks British Bombing Targets In Syria

Michael Fallon on 'Morning Edition'

Michael Fallon, British secretary of state for defense, talks to forces at a British air base in Cyprus on Dec. 5, days after <a href="">a Parliament vote</a> approving U.K. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

Britain rarely drops a bomb on Syria unless Michael Fallon approves it first.

British forces began bombing ISIS targets in Syria this month. And Fallon, a civilian who serves as secretary of state for defense, tells NPR that he insists on personally signing off before Royal Air Force Tornado warplanes strike a target.

Fallon's remarks on Morning Edition underscore how Western powers are struggling to damage ISIS without causing the kind of civilian deaths that would undermine the legitimacy of the campaign. One sign of the tension is that Fallon himself is so involved. No bomb is to be dropped on an arms depot or oil wellhead without his say-so. The only exceptions are "dynamic" targets, meaning ISIS fighters. Britain provides "close air support" to Iraqi forces and others who have attacked ISIS fighters on the ground.

"What we need to do is degrade the infrastructure," Fallon said, but "we need to minimize civilian casualties in this."

Asked about widespread criticism that the air campaign has been far too limited — Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, recently called on the U.S. to "carpet-bomb ISIS" — Fallon countered that the U.S., Britain and its allies intend to use ever more precision.

In one striking example, he said allies are striking oil infrastructure, which brings income to ISIS, but avoiding natural gas infrastructure, which serves local civilians.

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