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Dannatt: Send UK troops to fight IS

Published 24/05/2015

Former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt,has called on the Government to
Former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt,has called on the Government to "think the previously unthinkable" and consider sending ground troops to combat Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. David Parker/Daily Mail/PA Wire.
Lord Dannatt says the Government should 'think the unthinkable'

A former head of the Army has called on the Government to "think the previously unthinkable" and consider sending ground troops to combat Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, said he felt air strikes had "failed" to stop the advance of the extremist organisation and urged Parliament to debate deploying up to 5,000 infantry soldiers.

The fundamentalist group, responsible for the beheadings of several British hostages, has recently made gains in the Middle East by gaining control of the ancient town of Palmyra, in Syria, and the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

Lord Dannatt, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said: "In light of this terrifying scenario, how much longer can Britain and the US continue to show such a lack of commitment to defeating IS mililtarily? Their default option of air strikes and limited assistance to indigenous forces has failed thus far.

"We have now reached a point when we must think the previously unthinkable and consider that British troops, acting as part of an international coalition, may be required to mount a ground campaign in Iraq and Syria. I am no gung-ho general who says 'just send the boys in and don't worry about the body bags', far from it, but faced with such a lethal and uncompromising enemy as IS - and with the lack of political and diplomatic solutions at our disposal - we can no longer rule out 'boots on the ground'."

Political leaders had avoided the "politically toxic" question during the general election campaign but David Cameron should begin planning, the retired general added.

"What I am calling for today is for a public and political debate to begin immediately, so that arguments for and against the deployment of Western ground forces can be aired ... An opportunity to generate public support for a fully-fledged military intervention was lost, so we have got to start talking about and planning for a potential deployment now. Planning is one thing, a decision to commit is another, and could come later."

Lord Dannatt admitted there would be political challenges, including obtaining a United Nations Security Council resolution with the backing of China and Russia, while Syrian president Bashar Assad should be removed from office but "granted sanctuary in another state".

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced in March two RAF Sentinel surveillance aircraft had been deployed to the region to operate alongside Tornado strike jets and Reaper drones that have been carrying out air strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq.

And the UK has sent around 75 military trainers and headquarters staff to provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills as part of a US-led programme to support the moderate Syrian opposition.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said there is a need for troops on the ground - but not British troops.

He told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: "Clearly the news we've had this week is very difficult and we need to see what more can be done in terms of providing the help w e already are, both in terms of training or intelligence or equipment.

"But the answer to this is not going to be British troops on the ground."

He added: "This has to be won by the people most affected - it's the Iraqis, the Syrians and we've got to provide them help with our allies as we're doing, but this is not a war on the ground for British troops."

Conservative former defence secretary Liam Fox said boots on the ground would require the United States as the "prime mover".

He told Murnaghan on Sky News: "I think that is out of the question under the Obama presidency.

"I think even if he were to be persuaded that it was the right thing to do, and I'm not sure at all that he is, then I don't think he would be willing in the last year or so of his presidency to have that as his legacy given that he came to office saying he was going to withdraw America.

"The second part of that is all these countries in the Middle East and beyond who say they don't want American influence in the Middle East are now really changing their tune and saying 'Ah, it's not working, maybe it's time for America to re-engage'. You know, maybe it's time for the rest of us to start putting our money where our mouth is and having better collective security."

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