2015 12 – Bombing ISIL in Syria

Airstrikes Against ISIL In Syria:

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee Report.

by David Morrison

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has published a report on the possible extension of UK airstrikes against ISIL into Syria.

The report raises key questions for Government in anticipation of any motion asking the House of Commons to approve an extension of offensive British military operations to Syria.

The Committee finds that the benefits of extending British involvement in Coalition airstrikes in Syria are more than outweighed by the risks of legal ambiguity, political chaos on the ground in Syria, military irrelevance, and diplomatic costs.

The Committee is not persuaded by the Government’s efforts to treat ISIL and the Syrian civil war as separate issues, and considers that the focus on the extension of airstrikes against ISIL in Syria is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to conflict in Syria, which is itself a main cause of ISIL’s rise.

The Chairman of the Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, said:

“We are concerned that the Government is focusing on extending airstrikes to Syria, responding to the powerful sense that something must be done to tackle ISIL in Syria, without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating ISIL and ending the civil war.

There is now a miscellany of uncoordinated military engagements by an alarming range of international actors in Iraq and Syria, all of whom share an interest in defeating ISIL and who between them possess an overwhelming capability to do so. These forces desperately need coordinating into a coherent strategy and that is where our efforts should be focused. Making the military picture yet more complex is a distraction from the key task to help end the suffering and reverse the spread of this dangerous, barbaric and regressive ideology.

Just as we need a coordinated military strategy to defeat ISIL, we urgently need a complementary political strategy to end the civil war in Syria. By becoming a full combatant in the US led campaign at this stage, the UK risks needlessly compromising its independent diplomatic ability to support an international political solution to the crisis. Right now, the Government should be focussing all its energies supporting the efforts at international diplomacy in Vienna.

In this report, we set out seven points on which the Government should provide further explanation before asking the Commons to approve a motion authorising military action. Success in Vienna would produce an international strategy. There would still be military questions to answer. Until all these points are satisfied, the Government should not try to obtain Parliamentary approval to extend British military action to Syria. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military intervention in Syria says “there should be no British airstrikes in Syria without a coherent international strategy to both defeat ISIL and end the Syrian civil war”.[i]

The Committee has a Conservative majority (6 out of 11), with Conservative Crispin Blunt as Chair.

Below are the questions that the report says the Government needs to answer before asking the House to authorise military action on Syria:

The Government should explain the following points before asking the House of Commons to approve a substantive motion authorising military action:

  1. a) On an international strategy:
  2. i) How the proposal would improve the chances of success of the international coalition’s campaign against ISIL;
  3. ii) How the proposed action would contribute to the formation and agreement of a transition plan for Syria;

iii) In the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution, how the Government would address the political, legal, and military risks arising from not having such a resolution;

  1. iv) Whether the proposed action has the agreement of the key regional players (Turkey; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Iraq); if not, whether the Government will seek this before any intervention;
  2. v) Which ground forces will take, hold, and administer territories captured from ISIL in Syria.
  3. b) On the military imperative:
  4. i) What the overall objective is of the military campaign; whether it expects that it will be a “war-winning” campaign; if so, who would provide war-winning capabilities for the forces; and what the Government expects will be the result of extending airstrikes to Syria.
  5. ii) What extra capacity the UK would contribute to the Coalition’s actions in Syria.

36. We are persuaded that it is not yet possible for the Government to give a satisfactory explanation on the points listed above. Until it is possible for the Government to address these points we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria


[i] http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/foreign-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2015/uk-policy-on-syria-report-published-15-16/