Greater transparency and a grand strategy needed to defeat DAESH

Defence Committee Press Notice – 21 September 2016

The Defence Committee publishes its report into UK military operations in Syria and Iraq. The report examines the nature of DAESH, the threat posed by DAESH affiliates and the role played by the UK military, diplomatic and aid efforts in achieving the International Coalition's strategic goals.

Report findings

The report welcomes the progress made in terms of the land retaken from DAESH and the UK's military training effort in Iraq. However, it raises concerns about the lack of progress of the political strategy in both the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts.

UK air strikes

The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the air effort in both Syria and Iraq. That work demonstrates that since December 2015, UK airstrikes have been predominately in Iraq (550) with a far smaller number in Syria (65). Furthermore, only a minority of the 65 UK air strikes in Syria appear to be in support of opposition forces on the ground.

Syrian opposition groups

The report also assesses the Syrian opposition groups identified by the UK Government as partners on the ground and the resultant difficulties of a military campaign based predominantly on air power. Despite extensive correspondence with the Ministry of Defence, the Committee was unable to obtain the Government's list of which groups the UK was supporting in Syria. In the absence of an official list, we have had to rely on information provided by outside organisations. Whilst there was a degree of overlap in the groups identified in those lists, there was not a consensus on the political or religious motivations of those groups.


The report questions whether the Government's policy instruments are sufficiently integrated with the International Coalition's strategy and whether the strategy has the flexibility to meet the changing nature of the conflict in the Middle East. The report concludes that the phenomenon of DAESH is indicative of a wider problem and recommends that the Government sets out how it intends to counter new threats – whether they manifest themselves as a DAESH affiliate in Africa or South East Asia or as another group entirely, such as the former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al Sham.

Report's recommendations

Among the Report's recommendations are:

DAESH and the threat posed by DAESH affiliates

The UK military effort

Armed actors in Syria

UK strategy in Middle East and wider strategy against extremism

Changing the way we intervene

Chairman's comments

Dr Julian Lewis, Chairman of the Defence Committee, stated:

“Whilst substantial progress in eliminating DAESH is clearly being achieved in Iraq, the situation in Syria is far more complex. Assuming DAESH is squeezed out of both countries, we have to focus too on what happens next – both in other countries to which DAESH may migrate, and in Syria especially where there is no shortage of other Islamist groups, just as dangerous, which are planning to take control.”

[To read the full report, click here.]