UK lawmakers wary of government plan for Syria airstrikes

November 03, 2015

LONDON (AP) — The British government insisted Tuesday that it is still considering airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria, even though an influential group of lawmakers said the military action would be “incoherent” and ineffective without a plan to end the country’s civil war.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee dealt a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to expand U.K. action against the militants from Iraq into Syria. The committee — dominated by members of Cameron’s Conservative Party — said the debate about airstrikes “is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria.”

Committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a Conservative legislator, said he feared the government was “responding to the powerful sense that something must be done … without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating (IS) and ending the civil war.”

The Royal Air Force is part of a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq. But in 2013 British lawmakers unexpectedly rejected the government’s proposal for military action against President Bashar Assad’s forces in neighboring Syria.

Treasury chief George Osborne said Tuesday that the government still hoped to ask lawmakers for a mandate to launch strikes against I.S. in Syria. “But we are not going to go to the House of Commons unless we would be clear that we would win that vote and there would be a consensus for that action, and at the moment it’s not clear that there is a majority for it,” he said.

In a report, the foreign affairs committee said Russia’s intervention in the conflict in support of Assad’s government “has complicated even further any proposed action in Syria by the U.K.” It said that without an international strategy to end Syria’s civil war, “taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.”

The committee said the government needs to answer fundamental questions about the proposed airstrikes — including their legality without United Nations approval and whether they would have support from regional powers including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Until then, it said, “we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria.” The committee’s report is not binding on the government, but its warnings will make it harder for Cameron to gain lawmakers’ approval for airstrikes.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said RAF airstrikes had had “a substantial impact in degrading (IS) in Iraq” and that further military action was still on the table. “It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIL while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian civil war,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.

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