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UK 'letting down allies over Syria stance'

Published 08/11/2015

General Sir Nicholas Houghton said RAF airstrikes should be allowed in Syria
General Sir Nicholas Houghton said RAF airstrikes should be allowed in Syria

Britain is "letting down" its allies by not taking part in bombing runs against Islamic State in Syria, the UK's top military commander has said.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, said it "makes no sense" that RAF airstrikes in neighbouring Iraq had to stop at the border when IS, also known as Isil, based its stronghold in Syria.

The Government has considered seeking parliamentary approval to extend military intervention into the war-torn country and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said not doing so was "morally indefensible".

Sir Nicholas told Sky's Murnaghan programme: "To an extent yes, we are letting our allies down by not being a full player.

"But my view on this is a far more fundamental and simple one in a way and it's the point you make about going up to a border and having to stop there. In the most simplistic way it's like being asked to win a football match but not being able to go into the opponents' half.

"Daesh, Isil, they have a caliphate that extends across that border.

"But the source of their power, their command and control, their logistics, their organisation, the place from which they issue orders to international terrorists is from within Syria.

"And so to be denied our ability to play a proportionate role in that makes no sense."

Speaking to the BBC One Andrew Marr programme about the wider campaign against the so-called Islamic State, Sir Nicholas said: "I don't think that you defeat an ideology militarily. I think that has always been behind the international formulation of what we are doing about Isis.

"From a national perspective, the only thing we can unilaterally own as a country is a strategy about Isis that keeps the country and the people of this country safe."

He added: "We have only ever said we could make a contribution to the international defeat of Isis. This is as much down an ideological route as a military route.

"I think it's important in the end the military dimension is done by regional players, by Muslim countries, by local armed forces.

"I don't think we should play the decisive military role because it runs the risk of adding fuel to the radicalisation of Isis as an abhorrent cult."

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