Political Editor: The Majalla
on : Thursday, 18 Jul, 2013
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UK defense chief: No-fly zones in Syria ‘insufficient’

Britain's most senior army officer warns that ground attacks would be needed to change the state of play in Syria, risking wider war
UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond (L) walks in Downing Street with Chief of the Defense Staff General Sir David Richards on February 5, 2013 in London. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond (L) walks in Downing Street with Chief of the Defense Staff General Sir David Richards on February 5, 2013 in London. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

LONDON, Asharq Al-Awsat—The creation of no-fly zones in Syria would have little impact on the conflict, the outgoing head of the British military said yesterday, warning that attacks on ground targets would risk triggering a wider war.

General Sir David Richards, who is shortly to step down as the chief of staff of the UK’s armed forces, told London’s Daily Telegraph: “If you wanted to have the material impact on the Syrian regime’s calculations that some people seek, a no fly zone per se is insufficient.”

Instead, the Syrian government’s ground forces, especially its armored fighting vehicles, would have to be attacked, which he said risked embroiling the UK and its partners in a full-scale war.

General Richards said: “You have to establish a ground control zone. You have to take out their air defenses. You also have to make sure they can’t manoeuvre—which means you have to take out their tanks, and their armored personnel carriers and all the other things that are actually doing the damage.”

“If you want to have the material effect that people seek you have to be able to hit ground targets and so you would be going to war if that is what you want to do,” he warned.

He also warned that the complexity of the situation in Syria and the lack of a clear political objective were serious obstacles to any outside intervention in the conflict.

In particular, General Richards highlighted the fractious nature of the opposition to Bashar Al-Assad’s government, which has been riven by disputes between the different groups making up the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

FSA units have also clashed with Islamist militias like Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, and has been declared a terrorist organization by the US.

He said: “There is a lack of international consensus on how to take this forward…we are trying to cohere the opposition groups, but they are difficult to cohere because there are many different dimensions to them.”

“So it is work in progress, so I am very clear in my military advice to the government that we need to understand what the political objective is before we can sensibly recommend what military effort and forces should be applied to it,” he added

The UK and France previously took the lead within Europe in pressing for the expansion of military assistance to Syria’s rebels, and played an instrumental role in overturning the European Union’s embargo on supplying arms to the Syrian opposition.

However, in recent weeks, the British government has changed direction, showing reluctance to involve itself in the conflict directly, preferring instead to focus on the provision of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.

British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly abandoned a pledge to arm the FSA this week following consultations with senior military leadership, including General Sir David Richards, leaving him open to accusations of “betrayal” by FSA chief Salim Idris.

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One Comment

  1. nehad ismail - London says:

    General Sir David Richards is wrong. The cost of not getting involved in Syria far outweighs the cost of imposing a no-fly zone and arming the rebels with the anti-aircraft and anti tanks weapons. I would like Sir David Richards and his bosses to answer the following questions:

    Do David Cameron and Sir David Richards seriously believe that it is in the UK and US interests for Iran and Hezbollah, aided and abetted by Russia to determine the future of Syria?

    Do the army chiefs want Iran and Hezbollah to control Syria as they do in Lebanon and Iraq?

    Does London want Tehran to call the shots in the wider Middle East?

    Is it not a strategic UK interest to defeat this unholy alliance of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia?

    Does it surprise Cameron that Iraq is backing this alliance with money, materials and men?

    The UK and its US allies must arm the rebels and ditch Geneva 2 process which will not succeed.

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