Sunday 17 December 2017

‘The logic of an extended air campaign is mission creep’

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking during the debate in the House of Commons on extending the bombing campaign against Islamic State to Syria. Photo: PA
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking during the debate in the House of Commons on extending the bombing campaign against Islamic State to Syria. Photo: PA

Sam Dean in London

EMBATTLED Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn laid out a trenchant case against bombing Syria in the Commons yesterday. He said that the whole House recognises that decisions to send British forces to war are the most serious, solemn and morally challenging of any taken by members of parliament.

Corbyn said: “For all members, taking a decision that will put British service men and women in harm’s way and almost inevitably lead to the deaths of innocents is a heavy responsibility.

“It must be treated with the utmost seriousness – and respect given to those who make a different judgment about the right course of action to take.

“Which is why the Prime Minister’s attempt to brand those who plan to vote against the Government as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ both demeans the office of the Prime Minister and, I believe, undermines the seriousness of the deliberations we are having today.

“After the despicable and horrific attacks in Paris last month, the question of whether the Government’s proposal for military action in Syria strengthens – or undermines – our own national security must be at the centre of our deliberations.

“There is no doubt that the so-called Islamic State group has imposed a reign of sectarian and inhuman terror in Iraq, Syria and Libya. And there is no question that it also poses a threat to our own people.

“The issue now is whether extending UK bombing from Iraq to Syria is likely to reduce, or increase, that threat to Britain – and whether it will counter, or spread, the terror campaign Isil is waging across the Middle East.

“The answers don’t make the case for the Government’s motion. On the contrary, they are a warning to step back and vote against yet another ill-fated twist in this never-ending war on terror.

“Let’s start with the military dimension. The Prime Minister has been unable to explain why extending air strikes to Syria will make a significant military impact on the existing campaign.

“Isil is already being bombed in Syria or Iraq by the US, France, Britain, Russia and other powers. Canada has interestingly withdrawn from this campaign and no longer takes part in it. During more than a year of bombing Isil has expanded, as well as lost, territory. Isil gains include the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra.

“Last week, the Prime Minister suggested that a combination of Kurdish militias, the Free Syrian Army would be able to fill the gap. He even claimed a 70,000-strong force of moderate FSA fighters were ready to coordinate action against Isil with the western air campaign.

“That claim has not remotely stood up to scrutiny  . . . This is why the logic of an extended air campaign is in fact mission creep and western boots on the ground – whatever the Prime Minister may say now about keeping British combat troops out of the way – are a real possibility . . .  I think our overriding goal should be to end that civil war in Syria and obviously also to protect the people in this country. That is why I do not believe that the motion put by the Prime Minister achieves that, because it seems to put the emphasis on bombing now, whereas I think the emphasis should be not on bombing now but on bringing about all our endeavours, all our intelligence and all our efforts. 

“For those reasons, I urge members on all sides of the House to think very carefully about the responsibility that lies with them today. Do we send in bombers not totally aware of what the consequences are going to be, or do we pause, not send them in and instead put all of our efforts into bringing about a peaceful, humanitarian and just political settlement to the terrible situation faced by the people in Syria.”

But British lawmakers voted 397-223 to launch airstrikes against Isil in Syria following the lengthy debate.

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