For those who are still undecided on the forthcoming vote on extending the British Offensive into Syria -; I hope you will take a few moments to read a few brief thoughts following my return this weekend from key capitals across the Middle East with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
You will be aware that in recent weeks the Committee has been leading an inquiry into Daesh and previous to this published a report on ‘Extending the British Offensive into Syria’.
For these purposes the committee was divided into three groups.
Group 1: Riyadh, Iran, UAE
Group 2: Ankara, Baghdad and Gerbil
Group 3: (My group -; upon which I will focus below) Cairo, Amman, Beirut
We met with several key Military Personnel, Counter-Terrorism officers, Law enforcement officers, Government and Opposition MPs and held in-depth discussions with the National Security Agencies of each of these countries. It is important to remind ourselves that Lebanon, Egypt and Jordon are actively involved in fighting Daesh at their borders.
The consensus from the trip seems to be as follows:
- At this moment in time, Daesh control an area geographically larger than the United Kingdom. It is estimated 5-7 million people are living in these areas.
- The Prime Minister must make the case for Regional Co-operation with Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and urge them to deploy troops. We must assist them in taking back the city of Raqa, and other strong holds. Such an offensive would require the support of a British or American Battalion -; to set up Headquarters, Surveillance, Logistics core.
- The funding of Daesh must be stopped. If we are to make a substantial difference in their operational capabilities then steps must be taken to prevent the flow of funds from oil sales.
- The Prime Minister’s proposition that 70,000 Free Syrian Army rebels will fill the void once the bombing of Daesh intensifies must be treated with caution. Military experts confirmed to us that there would be a struggle to find 20,000. Many young potential recruits have fled Syria from fear of ISIS or Assad.
- We must be mindful that the consequences of a military offensive will almost certainly create a larger refugee crisis. Lebanon has taken in 1.2 Million refugees many of whom live in dire improvised conditions and potentially risk radicalisation. Turkey has taken 2 million refugees and Europe too must be prepared to take on more refugees when the numbers fleeing bombardment inevitably increase. If systems are not put in place to better support refugees, there is a strong suggestion that some will become vulnerable targets for ISIS recruitment.
- Our ultimate aim must be to bring down Assad. To this end we must work with Iran and Russia. Our understanding is that Saudi Arabia will work with Russia to persuade them to abandon their relationship with Assad. Iran may well be a harder task but it is an achievable one.
We must urge the Prime Minister to put these discussion points on the table before we proceed forward. Without these considerations, air strikes alone are simply a mere symbolic gesture leading to many innocent civilian deaths.
A few weeks ago the Foreign Affairs Select Committee produced a very reasoned and thoughtful report arguing against air strikes in Syria in the absence of a comprehensive long-term strategy. Returning from my travels, I and other colleagues still hold that view. All of the conversations and meetings we had last week confirmed to me that, in the absence of a proper strategy which must be informed through better on-the-ground knowledge and intelligence there is a real dangerthat any military intervention will almost certainly lead us in the same direction of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It is a message that we must urgently heed.
Colleagues are aware that coalition partners have been bombing Iraq and Syria for some time. America has already flown 57,000 sorties, carrying 8,300 strikes without noticeable strategic impact. We must ask the question -; how will our intervention change the tide? Without a comprehensive strategy, air strikes will simply reinforce our long-term failure in the region at a time when there are already too many aircrafts and there is too much air space congestion -; chasing too few targets.
Let us not be mis-led by the Prime minister and the fear mongering that has been put forth by the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. A British offensive on these terms will not help too weaken ISIS or prevent further attacks here in Europe. If anything it will cause further civilian causalities and drive greater numbers into the recruiting grounds of Daesh propaganda.
Even the Daily Mail this weekend argued -; “Mr Cameron hasn’t yet made the case for bombing Syria”http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3337003/DAILY-MAIL-COMMENT-Mr-Cameron-hasn-t-case-bombing-Syria.html#ixzz3sz9hncn4[endif]
Can I also implore you to read the following piece from the Observer yesterday.
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee will be meeting on Tuesday morning, and hope to be issue a short report. In the meantime, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yasmin Qureshi MP