UK ‘letting down’ allies over ISIL in Syria: Defense chief
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoThe head of Britain’s armed forces on Nov. 8 said the country was “letting down” allies by not participating in air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Syria.
Britain is part of a coalition hitting ISIL targets in Iraq, but its parliament has yet to be convinced of the need to join air strikes in neighboring Syria and an influential committee of MPs recently advised against action.
“To an extent yes, we are letting our allies down by not being a full player,” General Nicholas Houghton, the chief of the defense staff, told Sky News Nov. 8.
“The source of their power, their command and control, their logistics, their organization, the place from which they issue orders to international terrorists is from within Syria.
“In the most simplistic way it’s like being asked to win a football match but not being able to go into the opponents’ half,” he added.
However, the defense chief stressed that Britain could make only “make a contribution to the international” effort.
“In the end the military dimension is done by regional players, by Muslim countries,” he later told the BBC.
“I don’t think we should play the decisive military role because it runs the risk of adding fuel to the radicalization of ISIL as an abhorrent cult.”
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond later denied that the government had given up on a parliamentary vote.
“We are in exactly the same place that we’ve been for months,” he told the BBC.
“When we think it’s right to do so, when we think we have a consensus, we will go to the House of Commons.”
Hammond said the government was still in an “exploration” period with the opposition Labor party, which recently elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, and was yet to establish if it had the cross-party support required to win a vote to extend the air strikes.
He admitted that Britain’s decision “wasn’t going to tip the balance” in Syria and called for a political solution to bring about a ceasefire in the four-year civil war.
The government has argued that it is illogical to conduct air strikes in Iraq and not neighboring Syria, saying the two countries are “a single theatre of conflict”.
But the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee - a cross-party MPs’ body which scrutinises Britain’s foreign policy - said in a new report that Prime Minister David Cameron’s focus on joining air strikes was “incoherent” and “a distraction.”
However, the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, which Britain believes was probably the result of a bomb, has once again thrust the issue center stage.
Britain has suspended scheduled flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh as a result, and has sent over aircraft to fly home Britons remaining in the resort.
That decision was initially criticized by Russia, which is already hitting targets in Syria, but Houghton said yesterday that the common enemy of ISIL presented “an opportunity for an element of political convergence between America, ourselves, the West and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
Hammond yesterday warned that air passengers worldwide faced more security checks, “additional costs and additional delays,” if it were found that an ISIL bomb was responsible.
In Iraq, Britain is currently part of a coalition of more than 60 countries and has eight Tornado jets flying missions plus an unconfirmed number of Reaper drones.
This was approved by parliament in September last year, but the government was defeated on a vote to strike Syria in 2013.