UK lawmakers wary of government plan for Syria airstrikes

AP News
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Posted: Nov 03, 2015 6:58 AM

LONDON (AP) — The British government says it is still considering airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria, even though an influential group of lawmakers says the military action would be "incoherent" and ineffective without a plan to end the country's civil war.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday dealt a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron's attempts to expand U.K. action against the militants from Iraq into Syria.

Cameron and his defense minister, Michael Fallon, have said they favor expanding the strikes to Syria, with the approval of Parliament. But it looks increasingly unlikely that the government could win the backing of a majority of lawmakers.

The foreign affairs committee — dominated by members of Cameron's Conservative Party — said the debate about airstrikes "is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria."

Committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a Conservative legislator, said he feared the government was "responding to the powerful sense that something must be done ... without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating (IS) and ending the civil war."

The Royal Air Force is part of a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq. But in 2013 British lawmakers unexpectedly rejected the government's proposal for military action in neighboring Syria.

In a report published Tuesday, the foreign affairs committee said Russia's intervention in the conflict in support of Bashar Assad's government "has complicated even further any proposed action in Syria by the U.K."

It said that without an international strategy to end Syria's civil war, "taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent."

The committee said the government needs to answer fundamental questions about the proposed airstrikes — including their legality without United Nations approval and whether they would have support from regional powers including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Until then, it said, "we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria."

The committee's report is not binding on the government, but its warnings will make it harder for Cameron to gain lawmakers' approval for airstrikes.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said RAF airstrikes had had "a substantial impact in degrading (IS) in Iraq" and that further military action was still on the table.

"It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIL while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian civil war," he said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.