Monday 23 September 2019

Is it wrong that Britain relies on US drones to do its dirty work?

Syrian President Bashar Assad: receiving Russian help
Syrian President Bashar Assad: receiving Russian help

Con Coughlin

The targeted assassination of brutal British terrorist Jihadi John by a US drone strike should act as a spur for the House of Commons to lift its two-year ban on military action against Isil targets in Syria.

Although a wide range of intelligence and military assets on both sides of the Atlantic, including MI6, GCHQ and the CIA, worked together to hunt down Kuwaiti-born Mohammed Emwazi, it was the GCHQ listening post at Cheltenham that led the way in tracking down the terrorist.

The RAF has its own dedicated squadron of Reaper drones based in Lincolnshire, but the two-year Commons ban on British military operations in Syria against Isil meant intelligence officers had to pass over the targeting assignment against Jihadi John to their US allies.

There will be many politicians on both sides of the Commons who will feel uneasy that because of the ban on operations in Syria Britain has to rely on its allies to do its dirty work when it comes to targeting terror suspects.

In a recent interview, Gen Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, warned that Britain was "letting down its allies" by confining its military operations to neighbouring Iraq, when the terror organisation's headquarters are based in Syria.

Meanwhile, Michael Fallon, Britain's defence secretary, has said it is "morally wrong" that Britain is not allowed to participate in the US-led coalition's bombing campaign against Isil targets in Syria.

Together with other senior ministers, he is pressing for a second Commons vote to win approval for extending military operations.

The initial Commons vote banning military intervention in Syria was taken in 2013, when David Cameron sought to win support for his proposal to bomb the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which had been accused of using chemical weapons.

But in the past two years the British Government's position on Syria has changed dramatically, so that Isil, rather than Assad, is seen as the greater threat.

Thus, if a second vote is to be held, it will be to win support for air strikes against Islamist terrorists, not the Assad regime.

But the British government's hopes of a second Commons vote this autumn have been stymied by Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader.

Because there are still a significant number of Tory backbenchers opposed to any form of British involvement in Syria, the Government will need the backing of Labour MPs if it is to win a majority.

The increasingly left-wing stance adopted by Labour under Mr Corbyn, though, has raised fears in Downing Street that Labour could sabotage the vote, as happened under the former leader Ed Miliband in 2013.

But the targeted assassination of Jihadi John should cause Mr Corbyn to rethink his position. For if, as he said yesterday, he wants Isil terror suspects to be captured alive and brought to trial in Britain, even he must realise this can only happen if the British military has parliamentary approval to operate in Syria. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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