UK, France to send more troops to Syria

Orient Net 2019-07-10 12:35:00

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Britain and France have reportedly agreed to send additional troops to Syria at the request of Donald Trump‘s administration.

Although the number of special forces troops operating in Syria has never been made public, both countries are preparing to send an additional 10-15 per cent of troops each, a US official told Foreign Policy magazine.

However, the official said “overall we have been disappointed” in efforts to persuade US allies to commit more resources to the fight against ISIS.

A diplomatic source confirmed to The Independent that an increase would likely be forthcoming, without providing further details. The Ministry of Defence refused to deny the report, but added that it does not comment on the deployment of special forces as a matter of policy. 

The UK does not have an official troop presence on the ground in Syria, but a relatively number of SAS soldiers — numbering in the dozens, rather than the hundreds — have been engaged in the country's northeast in the battle against ISIS. It is likely that the new commitment will amount to a small increase in special forces troops, who will remain focused on operations against Isis sleeper cells in the country. 

The Trump administration has been pushing its allies to replace departing US troops for some time. But confusion over the role those troops would play has delayed any further commitments. 

The US had originally pitched a mostly European combat force to administer a safe zone in northern Syria, according to diplomats, which is partly designed to prevent fighting between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In response to that request, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that “there is no prospect of British forces replacing the Americans” in Syria. France, too, had made clear they would not remain without the US.

An increase in the UK's special forces commitment would fill some of the gap left by the US in anti-ISIS operations, but do little to meet US plans for a safe-zone.  

Any increase in the UK's operations in Syria is likely to provoke strong opposition from the Labour party. 

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, told The Independent earlier this year that a continued UK military role in Syria after the defeat of the caliphate “goes far beyond the policy MPs were asked to support in 2015.”

“The government will clearly need a fresh parliamentary mandate if British engagement in Syria is going to continue even after those Daesh remnants have been destroyed, and even after the majority of US troops have been withdrawn," she said.

A parliamentary vote in 2015 authorised the UK to carry out airstrikes against ISIS to “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”. David Cameron won the vote by a majority of 174. But the wider mission being proposed by the US may require another vote.

Earlier this week, Germany turned down a request from the Trump administration to commit ground troops to Syria.

German media reports over the weekend said James Jeffrey, the US envoy for Syria, asked government in Berlin to contribute ground troops to the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the government, said Germany has “made a considerable and internationally recognised contribution” to the coalition by training Iraqi troops, conducting aerial reconnaissance and refuelling allied aircraft.

Last year, Mr Trump ordered a full withdrawal of American forces from Syria, a move which led James Mattis to resign from his position as US defence secretary.

More than 2,000 US troops were thought to be in the country at the time.

Mr Trump later partially reversed his decision, leaving around 400 troops in the country.

Last week, the US-led coalition warned a new generation of jihadis is being created in camps holding the families of Isis fighters.

The potential for radicalisation in the camps is “the biggest long-term strategic risk” in the fight against the militant group outside of ongoing military operations, Major General Alexus Grynkewich, deputy commander of the international coalition, told The Independent.

He said: “The anecdotal stories we have about some of the women with their children who were surrendering, if you will, is that there are hardcore ISIS ideologues among them. We certainly have seen reporting from some of the partners who work in those camps that there is a fair amount of that ideology.

“The children are being brought up in that. So, you can almost see the next generation of ISIS in those camps today. It’s a tremendous problem.”

By Samuel Osborne and Richard Hall 

Link to the original source of the INDEPENDENT