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'BATTLE AGAINST ISIS MAY FAIL, MPs WARN'

By Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor

The Times – 21 September 2016

Britain needs a “grand strategy” to defeat Islamic State, promoting stability and reform in the Muslim world as well as military action in Iraq and Syria, a parliamentary committee has said. The Commons Defence Select Committee said that any gains being made in the military campaign risked being undermined by a lack of progress on the political side.

It warned that the Islamist group, like al-Qaeda before it, could transform into an international movement if squeezed out of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. The report said:

“The UK and coalition’s strategy to counter Daesh is predominately focused on Iraq and Syria and relies on the removal of territory from Daesh in order to eliminate it. That is a necessary, but not sufficient, strategy. [If] Daesh is defeated in the Middle East but then grows strong in Africa, the current strategy will require major revision.”

The MPs said:

“Our counter-Daesh strategy should be as effective in Nigeria, Afghanistan or Libya as it is in Iraq or Syria. There needs to be a grand strategic discussion about the threat posed by Daesh and how we can defeat it.”

The Committee added that serious question-marks remained over progress in the campaign in Iraq and Syria, with only one tenth of the airstrikes conducted by Britain since December having taken place in Syria while the rest were in Iraq. The Government had persistently been unclear about the identities of the 70,000 opposition fighters whom David Cameron claimed would work with the UK to defeat Islamic State in Syria, it said. The argument had been essential to him winning a Commons vote to bomb Syria.

Since MPs voted in December to expand the mission into Syria from Iraq, Tornado and Typhoon warplanes and Reaper drones have conducted 550 bombing raids and missile strikes in Iraq, but only 65 in Syria. Of that number, more than half of the missions in Iraq were against suspected Isis fighters, compared with just a quarter of the Syria strikes to the end of May.

The Committee tried to obtain details from the Ministry of Defence about the composition of the so-called 70,000 moderate fighters. The report said that the MoD had declined to provide a list of the groups

“since that would risk providing useful intelligence to the Assad regime”.

The report concluded that the military campaign against Isis was bearing fruit in Iraq, where territory had been reclaimed by Iraqi government forces working in close co-ordination with British, US and other coalition warplanes. The situation was

“much less certain in Syria”,

the MPs said.