The Unz Review • An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
No Strategy, No Plan and Only ‘phantom’ Allies: UK’s Syria Flaws Laid
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information


Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

The Government is failing to implement its policy of making war on Isis in Syria which it was supposed to have launched nine months ago after rancorous debate.

A report by the House of Commons Defence Committee published on Wednesday says that there have been only 65 UK air raids in Syria during this period, compared to 550 in Iraq. Some 31 of these were in the first two months of the air campaign, since when the number has fallen to between three and seven air strikes a month

Drawing attention to the small number of British air attacks in Syria, Dr Julian Lewis, the chairman of the committee, asked in an interview with The Independent why “we had the great debate and vote on beginning military action in Syria when the number of air strikes there are so minute.” He added that, despite the committee’s best efforts, it had been unable to get the Government to identify the 70,000 armed moderates who are meant to be Britain’s local partners on the ground in Syria.

The muddled British political and military strategy in Syria was exemplified last Saturday when British aircraft took part in an air strike that mistakenly killed 62 Syrian army soldiers who were apparently fighting Isis near the besieged provincial capital of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. The British government has maintained that the Syrian army is not fighting Isis, but was seeking to crush moderate rebels opposed to Isis and the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The committee said the failure of the Ministry of Defence to provide it with a full analysis of UK air strikes in Syria may “undermine the Government’s assertion that the bombing campaign in Syria is in support of credible moderate ground forces”.

Several witnesses leading the air campaign told the committee that there was a big distinction between British air action in Iraq, which is in support of the Iraqi government, and in Syria, where it is unclear whom British air strikes are meant to help. The question the report makes by implication is: that if such moderate forces are more than a myth – and Dr Lewis refers to them as “phantoms” – why have we not supported more vigorously with air strikes?

Asked about difference between UK air action in Syria and Iraq, Lieutenant General Mark Carleton-Smith, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Strategy and Operations) said that in Syria the UK was “marginally engaged, from the air only, across a much less homogenous battlefield, where the identification of the multifaceted parties, agencies and militias is much more difficult to determine.”


The report is the most rigorous and best-informed attempt to determine the nature of the political and military battlefield in which the UK is engaged in Iraq and Syria. It seeks to get to the bottom of what British forces are supposed to be doing in the war and how far these aims are attainable. It focuses on the lack of a coherent political strategy and, in particular, on the lack of allies on the ground in Syria. It notes that not only have there been very few British air attacks and that “only a minority of the 65 UK air strikes in Syria appear to be in support of opposition forces on the ground.”

In Iraq, enemy forces constitute 55 per cent of the targets, whereas in Syria they were 35 per cent up to the end of May, since when they have risen to 40 per cent, mostly around Manbij in northern Aleppo province where the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces captured the city after a long siege.

Having ruled out acting in concert with the Assad government, whose displacement is a centrepiece of British policy, British military action in theory presupposes the existence of a powerful “third force” on the ground in Syria. The report says that “despite extensive correspondence with the Ministry of Defence, the committee was unable to obtain the Government’s list of which groups the UK was supporting in Syria.” It concludes that the real reason why the UK air operation in Syria is so small, despite rhetorical comparisons with resisting Hitler during last year’s Commons debate, is “mainly the lack of partners on the ground, other than Kurdish forces.”

The Government’s explanation on why it cannot reveal the identity of the potent but invisible Syrian armed moderates is that this information would help the Assad government. But Dr Lewis and the report strongly suggest that the very limited nature of the British air campaign is a tacit admission that no such force exists on the ground in Syria which British air strikes might assist. But the existence of such a moderate body is a necessity if both Isis and Assad are to be removed simultaneously.

In the light of this, the report is sceptical about government goals in Syria which “are not only to defeat Daesh [Isis], but also to help bring into being a government which will be neither authoritarian and repressive, on the one hand, nor Islamist and extreme on the other.” It says that these aims cannot be achieved by military means alone.

The report is much happier about the UK military role in Iraq where the UK is heavily involved in training. It says that “over a third of troops trained by the [US-led] Coalition have received this training from US military personnel.” Nevertheless, though the report does not address this, the successes of the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga have mainly been as mopping up forces aided by the devastating fire power of the coalition air armada without which their performance is much less impressive.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Syria 
Hide 13 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
  1. The fact that this is one more war crime goes unnoticed, of course.

  2. Nato, a nation gang, behaves just like any other gang; be it a mafia, street, banker, bike gang.
    As such, the biggest and most criminal ever a gang, the nation gang, does what it does best: killing people and peoples and steals from them.

    Lucky for us, capo de tutti capi’s power is waning; hopefully it results in capo doing less crimes.

    • Replies: @Zhu
  3. Rehmat says:

    With Theresa May aka ISRAELI TANK COMMANDER in power – Britain will always protect ISIS/ISIL in Syria and Iraq by bombing by BOMBING BY MISTAKE Syrian forces and its Hizbullah allies like the Americans.

    British government is so paranoid by the word SYRIA that even reading a book on Syria could put you in troubles.

    In July 2016, UK-born Muslim health worker Faizah Shaheen, 27, found that out while returning from her honeymoon trip to Turkey aboard British Thomson Airways at Doncaster Airport in Finningley, England.

    A cabin crew member spotted her reading Malu Halasa’s book, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline on outbound flight a fortnight ago . Thinking her a ‘Muslim terrorist’, the attendant reported her to the South Yorkshire police department.

    On arrival, Shaheen was detained for investigation under the recently passed anti-terrorist legislation, authored by BIPAC-Tory government, and now forcefully applied by the ‘Israeli tank commander, Theresa May, country’s new prime minister.

    During the interrogation, police asked Shaheen what she did for a living.

    “I told them I work as a child and adolescent mental health services practitioner for the National Health Service,” she said. “Ironically, a part of my job role is working on anti-radicalization and assessing if vulnerable young people with mental health problems are at risk of being radicalized. I said that to the police. I’m actually part of trying to fight radicalisation and breaking the stereotypes.”

    Having now experienced victimization by UK police firsthand, Shaheen will be following up with a formal complaint against the police and Thomson Airways regarding the incident.

  4. darpan says:

    “The muddled British political and military strategy in Syria was exemplified last Saturday when British aircraft took part in an air strike that mistakenly killed 62 Syrian army soldiers ”
    4 nations claim to have participated in this operation by 4 aircraft. Guess each nation contributed one. Small wonder they confused their targets.

  5. “Mistakenly” killed the Syrian soldiers who were “apparently” fighting ISIS? Really? They’ve only been holding out against ISIS at Deir Azzor for four years.

    But of course that’s true. It was a total mistake to kill only 90 (not 62) of them. They meant to kill them all!

    I’d like to know how Denmark, Britain and Australia all somehow managed to take part, with America, in an air raid in which four planes (two F16s and two A10s) were involved. Did they all contribute one plane each? Half a plane? A wing and tail apiece? What?

    Or did America conduct the raid all by itself and the vassals, including the contemptible colony of Britain, threw themselves on their swords in order to dilute the blame? Surely that couldn’t be, could it? I mean, if that had been true, one would think they’d have joined America in, for example, an illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, so that Bush could pretend he was leading an “international coalition” of which “everyone” thought Saddam Hussein had WMDs. But that didn’t happen, did it?

    …oh wait.

    • Replies: @RobinG
  6. @darpan

    You’re not the only one who noticed that. Actually, the Aussies claim to have provided TWO aircraft, so the other three shared two planes. Maybe the Brits donated a tail and the Danes a pair of wings.

  7. RobinG says:
    @Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist


    One of your Raghead cartoons (great website, btw) depicts Uncle Sam pressing the Saudi to attack Yemen. This is certainly plausible, but do you have any evidence, leaks, gossip, whatever? It’s obvious that there’s intimate cooperation, if not more.

    The rage now in US is to throw the Saudis under the bus (only debate, how big the bus, how fast it’s going). Congress is voting on whether US citizens can sue Saudis for 911. (This might be a good thing if it sets a precedent whereby individuals around the world could sue US for war crimes.)

  8. Zhu says:
    @bob balkas

    The next capo (Trump or Clinton) will not be a whit better.

  9. RobinG says:
    @Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist

    Thanks for your response, but that “coordinating” is significantly different from coercing the Saudis into action. Yes, we know about US providing arms and intelligence and naval blockade, but all the while pretending to be dragged into it against their will.

    Last year (not long after that antiwar piece was published) I attended a symposium at the Atlantic Council. IIRC, I asked what treaty or agreement the US has with the Saudis that obliges supporting an aggressive attack on a sovereign nation. One speaker mumbled something about none really, but the US is “taking one for the team”…..To which I pointed out that it was not the US, but Yemen that is taking one.

    Can you believe the self-serving arrogance of presuming to claim victimhood for your own acts of murder and destruction!

  10. I suppose one might ask what British national interest is being served by intervention in Syria. I cannot think of any, other than the Saudi and Quatari paymasters who have made Tony Blair et al rich beyond compare can continue to make successive government leaders at least as well off. This is truly sad indeed!

Current Commenter

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone

 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments have been licensed to The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Commenting Disabled While in Translation Mode
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr