'DAVID CAMERON "WARNED BY MILITARY CHIEFS NOT TO CLAIM THERE WERE 70,000 FRIENDLY SYRIAN TROOPS" '
Defence and Whitehall sources expressed fears that the figure would come back to haunt the Government
By Victoria Ward
Telegraph Online – 4 December 2015
Military chiefs warned David Cameron against declaring that there were 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters ready to take on Islamic State, it has been claimed. Senior officials feared the figure was an over-estimate and could come back to haunt him, becoming the Government's "dodgy dossier". But critics reportedly warned that many of the "rag-tag" Syrian army were likely to be militant Islamists and demanded more detail.
Labour MP Louise Haigh claimed Sir Mark-Lyell Grant, the National Security Adviser, had said that some 40 per cent of those fighters were "radical Islamists".
In Wednesday's parliamentary debate, Dr Julian Lewis, the Tory Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, warned that
"instead of having dodgy dossiers, we now have bogus battalions of moderate fighters".
The original "dodgy dossier" was used by Tony Blair to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and included the false claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.
A Whitehall source said:
"There were Ministry of Defence officials who maybe felt scarred after the previous dossier. They looked at the latest text and said that [the 70,000 figure] could become the '45 minutes' moment of this document. The concern was ... [that the 70,000 figure] will become the one thing that everyone latches on to, like the 45 minutes claim."
A Downing Street spokeswoman said:
"The Ministry of Defence did not raise concerns with No 10 on whether this figure should be included in the prime minister's response to the foreign affairs committee."
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'SENIOR DEFENCE FIGURES WARN DAVID CAMERON AGAINST SAYING THERE ARE 70,000 OPPOSITION FIGHTERS IN SYRIA'
Experts have raised serious questions about the figure
By Peter Dominiczak
Telegraph Online – 4 December 2015
Senior figures in the Defence department warned against David Cameron saying that there are 70,000 opposition fighters in Syria willing to take on Isil, it has been claimed. Senior figures in the Ministry of Defence are said to have warned against the Prime Minister using the figure as part of his case for Britain launching airstrikes against the jihadists in Syria.
The figure has been heavily contested since it was used more than one week ago by Mr Cameron to help justify his calls for UK bombing raids in Syria. It is claimed that senior Defence officials asked for the number to be taken out of Mr Cameron's statement to Parliament.
Mr Cameron said that he had been given the 70,000 figure by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises on defence issues. The committee is said to have overruled the concerns of defence officials, who warned that it could be "misleading".
Experts have since raised serious questions about the figure.
Julian Lewis, the Conservative Chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, compared it to the "dodgy dossier" which helped take Britain to war under Tony Blair.
Since making his original claim about 70,000 opposition fighters, Downing Street has admitted that the figure is made up of different groups of people who could take the fight to Isil. During his first appearance in Parliament, Mr Cameron said:
"We believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters – principally the Free Syrian Army – who do not belong to extremist groups, and with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil."
Downing Street last night did not explicitly deny that concerns were raised about the 70,000 figure. However, a spokesman insisted that Number 10 had not been made aware of any issues that officials may have had with the number. A spokesman said:
"The 70,000 figure was produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which includes in its membership officials from the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence did not raise concerns with No10 on whether this figure should be included in the PM's response to the Foreign Affairs Committee."