The UK should be doing much more in the fight against the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria, working seriously to find what must inevitably be a political solution to the problem, a group of British members of parliament have said.
While members of the Commons Defence Committee (CDC) strongly criticised the UK government's efforts, they emphasised they do not call for sending British troops to fight the extremist group, known also as Daesh or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) .
In its latest report, the CDC said officials and senior military officers have failed to set out a clear strategy to meet their goal of defeating the extremists.
The report said the UK has the expertise and resources to play a much larger role in analysing the IS threat, contributing to the plan to defeat them, supporting Iraqi forces, and encouraging a political solution.
The CDC members filed their report after visiting Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, in December where they met with Iraqi tribal sheikhs and leaders, Iraqi military officials, British soldiers and ordinary Iraqis.
They described the visit as “amazing”.
Announcing the report, Rory Stewart, chairman of the committee, expressed his dissatisfaction with the UK role given the behaviour and actions of IS.
"The nightmare of a jihadist state establishing across Syria and Iraq has finally been realised. Daesh controls territory equivalent to the size of the UK, has contributed to the displacement of millions, destabilising and threatening neighbouring states, and providing safe-haven to an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters, many dedicated to an international terrorist campaign. Yet, the role that the UK is playing in combating it is strikingly modest," he said.
The report expressed “shock” that the UK has no clear strategy on fighting the group that UK Prime Minister David Cameron said would take years to defeat.
“The committee was shocked by the inability or unwillingness of any of the service chiefs to provide a clear and articulate statement of the UK’s objectives or strategic plan in Iraq,” the report said.
The UK has said its Tornados and surveillance aircraft have been helping with intelligence gathering and logistics in the region.
However, according to the report, British warplanes have so far conducted only six per cent of the US-led international coalition’s air-strikes against IS.
The MPs recommended that the UK invests heavily in staff “to develop a better understanding of the situation on the ground, and to help shape a realistic coalition plan for dealing with Daesh.”
They also suggested that more contacts with regional players on the ground are needed to better understand developments and changes in the Middle East.
The report’s recommendations include “significantly increased diplomatic and defence engagement with key regional powers, particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to develop a much more detailed understanding of the potential benefits and challenges of a regional solution.”
“There are dozens of things the UK could be doing, without deploying combat troops, to work with coalition partners to help address one of the most extreme threats that we have faced in the last 20 years," Stewart said.
The UK government has talked about “working with others to extinguish this terrorist threat.” But the report warned very strongly that the solution to the problem of IS cannot only be military. In the end, the solution has to be political, the report said, adding: “If it is going to be political, we have to do it seriously and have a political search.”
Government rejects conclusions
The government has called the assessment of the report inaccurate and said that military support was just one part of the international coalition's strategy to defeat IS.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the committee that progress is being made in the fight against the group.
''There has been progress. There is no doubt that the advance of ISIL has been halted and in some areas — just to the west and north of Baghdad and just along the front line of the Kurdish forces — there is some evidence now that ISIL is beginning to suffer reverses, and obviously that is something we can measure,” he said.
''I can measure it not least in seeing where the strikes are that I am being asked to authorise. Where those start to fall you can see significant progress westward, which is important.''
The UK government says it provides £39.5 million in humanitarian aid to support people across Iraq who have fled from IS.
On 5 November 2014, Fallon announced that the UK is planning to offer advisory personnel to Iraqi headquarters as well as providing additional training to Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga.