New Forest East



By James Slack, Political Editor

Daily Mail – 3 December 2015

David Cameron's claim there are 70,000 'moderate' Syrian troops ready to join the fight against Islamic State was yesterday compared to Tony Blair's infamous dodgy dossier.

Julian Lewis, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee said he believed the Prime Minister's figure would prove to be 'bogus'. He was one of a string of MPs in the 10-and-a-half-hour debate to cast doubt on Mr Cameron's key claim that there is an army on the ground in Syria ready to do battle with IS. The presence of the moderates is considered vital if the fanatics are to be defeated – with military generals saying RAF air strikes alone will be insufficient.

Mr Cameron claims the 70,000 figure was produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which draws together information gathered by British security officials. But he has been repeatedly challenged over the figure in recent days, amid claims the 'ragbag' army is much smaller or made up of Islamist extremists.

In yesterday's debate, Mr Lewis warned:

'Instead of dodgy dossiers we now have bogus battalions of moderate fighters'.

This is a reference to Mr Blair's claim – made in the run-up to the Iraq war – that Saddam Hussein could fire chemical weapons within 45 minutes. Mr Lewis, who refused to support military action in last night's vote, added that air strikes without ground forces would be

'ineffective and potentially dangerous'

Fellow Tory rebel John Baron said:

'One of the fundamental differences between Iraq and Syria is that in Iraq there are nearly 1 million personnel on the Government payroll (in Iraq), and still we are having trouble pushing ISIL back. In Syria, with the 70,000 moderates, we risk forgetting the lesson of Libya.'

Mr Cameron, repeatedly forced to defend the figure, said:

'I am not arguing- this is a crucial point-that all of the 70,000 are somehow ideal partners.'

He also conceded there were rebel forces fighting on the ground in Syria who would refuse to cooperate with Britain or any non-Muslims. The PM said:

'The 70,000 excludes those in extremist groups like al-Nusra that we will not work with. As I have said very clearly, I am not arguing that the 70,000 are ideal partners; some of them do have views that we do not agree with. But the definition of the 70,000 is those people that we have been prepared to work with and continue to be prepared to work with. Let me make this point again: if we do not take action against Daesh now, the number of ground forces we can work with will get less and less and less.'

Opponents of the military strikes warn that – if military action backfires – the 70,000 claim could

'turn into Cameron's 45-minutes'.

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Commons Defence Committee Chairman – who is a Tory – drew parallels with the discredited intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq

By Ann Gripper

Mirror Online – 3 December 2015

Airstrikes alone are a

“dangerous diversion and distraction”,

the Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee said yesterday. Dr Julian Lewis drew parallels with the discredited intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying:

“Instead of ‘dodgy dossiers’, we now have ‘bogus battalions’ of moderate fighters.”

The MP for New Forest East called for a grand military alliance as he questioned the Government's assessment of the number of moderate fighters in Syria. Dr Lewis said:

"Honourable members are being asked to back airstrikes against Daesh to show solidarity with our French and American friends, yet a gesture of solidarity however sincerely meant, cannot be a substitute for hard-headed strategy.

"Most Defence Committee members probably intend to vote for such airstrikes but I shall vote against airstrikes in the absence of credible ground forces, as ineffective and potentially dangerous, just as I voted against the proposal to bomb Assad in 2013.

"Indeed the fact that the British Government wanted to bomb first one side and then the other in the same civil war, in such a short space of time, illustrates to my mind a vacuum at the heart of our strategy."

He added:

"I am sorry to say, genuinely sorry to say, that we face a choice between very nasty authoritarians and Islamist totalitarians, there is no third way. Our Government however is in denial about this."

Dr Lewis said the Government had conceded that air strikes must be in support of ground forces and had

"come up with a remarkable figure from the Joint Intelligence Committee of 70,000 so-called moderate fighters with whom we can supposedly co-ordinate our air strikes".

"It is very doubtful however that were such an alliance successful the territory freed from Daesh would cease to be under Islamist control."

He went on:

"So Mr Speaker, instead of having dodgy dossiers, we now have bogus battalions of moderate fighters."

He concluded:

"Airstrikes alone are a dangerous diversion and distraction. What is needed is a grand military alliance involving not only the West but Russia and, yes, its Syrian government clients too. We need to choose the lesser of two evils and abandon the fiction of a cosy third choice.

"There is a general consensus now, that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a terrible mistake, but Saddam Hussein was every bit as much of a vicious dictator as we are told that Assad is.

"So ask yourself when you're thinking about the hard choice that has to be faced tonight, ask yourself this, you may feel pious about it looking back on the wrong decision that was made about Saddam Hussein, but a very similar decision confronts us tonight, it is a question of choosing the lesser of two evils, not fooling ourselves that there's a cosy third option, which in reality is a fantasy."

* * *

Mirror Online – 2 December 2015

So David Cameron has got his way – and his war. None of the objections to bombing Syria have vanished and none of the questions about holes in the long-term strategy have been answered.

Despite the Mirror's reservations about the effectiveness of an air campaign and where it may lead we support the armed forces. Our thoughts are with the RAF crews and their families.

It is an irony that many of the finest speeches in the Commons against raids came from anti-bombing Tories such as Julian Lewis, John Baron and David Davis. And the better ones endorsing action were by pro-bombing Labour rebels including Margaret Beckett, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper, Dan Jarvis and especially Hilary Benn …

* * *

Mirror Online – 2 December 2015

... Syria bombing vote: Julian Lewis' speech is without doubt the one you need to see ...

* * *

[NOTE: Seven Conservative MPs voted against the proposed airstrikes. As well as Julian, they were: John Baron, David Davis (former Shadow Home Secretary), Gordon Henderson, Philip Hollobone, Stephen McPartland, and Andrew Tyrie (Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee and the Liaison Committee).]