By Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent
Daily Telegraph Online – 21 September 2016
Britain’s “fire-fighting” strategy to battle the so-called Islamic State terrorist group in Syria and Iraq could lead to a rapid increase in other terror groups in the region, MPs warn today. The House of Commons Defence Committee also raised questions about the military strategy in Syria after new figures showed that strikes have been running at just one a week since the end of January.
MPs on the Committee warned that a rapid increase in Isil groups outside of Iraq and Syria “could form yet another front in the battle against international Islamist terrorism”. They also warned that a “a lack of political reform” in Iraq and Syria could see Isil or Daesh replaced by “even greater threats” from other terrorist groups.
The Committee called for a “grand strategy” to defeat Islamic State to promote stability and reform in the Muslim world as well as military action in Iraq and Syria.
Julian Lewis MP, the Committee’s Conservative chairman, said other groups like the al-Nusra front
“stand ready and waiting to seize control of they can or certainly wreak mayhem”.
“Even if we squeeze out Daesh from Iraq and Syria we have to have a strategy for dealing with it elsewhere. We must get fixated on this one atypical Islamist group.
“We need a more overarching strategy rather than a fire-fighting approach country by country. Air power alone is not going to do the trick unless you have credible forces fighting on the ground.”
Taking Isil’s territory in western Iraq and northern Syria by military force was
“necessary but not sufficient”,
the cross-party Committee warned in a report. Even if it is crushed in its current strongholds, the group or its affiliates could resurface in Africa or south-east Asia or be replaced in the Middle East by
“other groups posing similar or even greater threats”.
The Committee warned that Western countries, including the UK, might find themselves faced with a choice between repressive dictators such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad or violent Islamist revolutionaries, and will have to make a
“hard-headed evaluation of which of the unpalatable prospects poses the lesser threat to our national interests”.
While the Government’s long-term strategy of promoting a “stable, secure, democratic” future for the Middle East was "laudable", the report warned that it was "far from clear" whether the pro-democracy forces unleashed by the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 would be capable of fostering a transition to Western-style pluralist and tolerant systems.
The report detailed 550 airstrikes since December 2015 by British forces in Iraq, where it said coalition military effort was “bearing fruit”. But it warned that progress was “much less certain” in Syria, where a far lower tally of 65 strikes have been made – a third in the first seven weeks of the action – and only a minority of which
“appear to be in support of opposition forces on the ground”.
A Government spokesman said:
“The UK is at the forefront of efforts to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. We have conducted over 1,000 airstrikes, which is second only to the US in both countries, and have helped train more than 25,000 Iraqi forces. As a result, Daesh is losing territory in Iraq and Syria.
“Daesh can’t be defeated by military means alone, which is why our strategy tackles its finances, propaganda, flow of foreign fighters and evolving terrorist threat. We’re supporting the Iraqi government to deliver stabilisation, reconciliation and reform, and are working with international partners and the UN towards a political settlement in Syria.”