No strategy, no Syria strikes say MPs

Senior MPs have warned the UK Government against extending military action into Syria in the absence of “a coherent international strategy” in a report published by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC).

Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Crispin Blunt MP pointed to the “miscellany of uncoordinated military engagements in Syria and Iraq” and said Britain’s role should be to help coordinate these into a “coherent strategy”.

The report added that air strikes against Daesh in Syria would be “a distraction” from the task of finding a resolution to the civil war, which was a main cause of the rise of Daesh.

Blunt said there was an urgent need for a complementary political strategy to end the Syrian civil war and urged the Government to “[focus] all its energies on the international diplomacy in Vienna”.

In response to the progress made at the latest rounds of talks – coming in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks – Blunt said: “I think we’re beginning to work towards the kind of international plan that will mean we’ve got a military task that we can achieve.”

The FAC set out key questions that the Government would need to answer before asking the Commons to approve a motion for military action. MPs want to know if there is a clear military objective and they want details on how UK involvement would improve the chances of defeating Daesh and whether this would contribute to a transition plan for Syria.

They have demanded to know whether UK has the agreement of key regional players to engage in military action. As Daesh cannot be defeated by air strikes alone, MPs also want to know whose ground forces would be responsible for administering regained territory.

The Prime Minister has said he would “respond personally” to the conditions laid out by Foreign Affairs Committee and would “make the case for military action” before putting a vote to the Commons, which is expected before Christmas.

With only a slim majority in Parliament, Cameron will have to win over sceptics in his own party and he will need the support of the Labour MPs, which is uncertain given the anti-war stance of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking to Embassy, former UK Ambassador to Syria (2000-03), Henry Hogger, concurred with MPs that extending UK air strikes into Syria “would not do much good without some kind of underlying strategic objective” and said the recent progress in the diplomatic process “needs to be given a chance”.

A key sticking point is the role of Bashar Al-Assad in a future Syria. “It probably depends more on [Bashar’s] external backers – Russia, Iran, Hizbullah – than on the West,” said Hogger. “We should keep an eye on opinion among the Alawites, who will be anxious to keep a hold on power, but may not necessarily see Bashar himself as the key to that.”