Fight Isis on the ground, says senior British general and former Nato chief

Air strikes and aid drops are futile, according to General Sir Richard Shirreff

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One of Britain’s most senior military figures has accused the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of running scared over a fresh military intervention in Iraq.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, Nato’s former deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, told The Independent on Sunday: “Both [David] Cameron and [Philip] Hammond have waxed lyrical about the apocalyptic nature of the threat. If that’s the case, you need a proper strategy to deal with it.”

The general, who left the military in August, dismissed Britain’s involvement in air strikes and aid drops as “futile gestures”. When it comes to dealing with Islamic State, he said: “If you’ve got a terrorist organisation that’s equipped like a state army, albeit a pretty ropey state army, there’s only one thing you can do about it. If you want to get rid of them you’ve got to go and fight them, and that means deploying effective military force to fight them.”

 

The former Nato commander added: “I’ve seen enough of fighting, but sometimes you’ve got to do it. And what we have is a government that wrings its hands, shouts loudly but carries a tiny stick which it’s not prepared to use.”

He accused the Government of “playing politics instead of strategy” because “they are so petrified about overseas military commitment in the face of an election next year – they are not prepared to do anything”.

“If this is serious and a cancer that’s got to be excised, then there’s only one way to do it, which is to go and fight the bastards on the ground. This hand-wringing about boots on the ground I just find utterly ludicrous, frankly,” he said. He stressed that military force will not succeed unless it is  part of a wider strategic approach to deal with the problem, which he described as “a serious threat .... If we see the break-up of the Middle East’s geographic and state framework that we’ve got at the moment, then it’s going to make the break-up of Yugoslavia look like a children’s tea party,” he said.

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General Sir Richard Shirreff says Britain is wary of ground attacks in places such as Kobani (PA)

Others urge caution. Dr Douglas Porch, a insurgency expert who has taught at the US Army War College and the Nato Defence College, warned MPs that Britain risks “swelling the numbers” of people going to Syria if it intervenes. “Every time we have intervened since Jimmy Carter in the 1980s, we make the situation worse. We create power vacuums. We alienate people and we create ungoverned spaces. We are living the consequences, in my opinion, of that succession of policies,” he told the Commons Defence Select Committee.

A former CIA officer in Iraq and Afghanistan believes Britain is exaggerating the threat of IS and playing into the hands of extremists by threatening to disown its own citizens. Patrick Skinner, a director of the Soufan Group of security consultants, said: “The tendency seems to be exaggeration, at least in the certainty of the threat. It is a real concern but it’s not like this ticking time bomb of certainty.” The threat needs to be kept in perspective, he argued. “It’s a real threat, but then the world is full of many real threats.”

He cautioned against having “policy driven by unfounded fear” and said: “It’s OK to be concerned. But fright is a bad policy. Because we have gone through this road before where if it is ‘possible’ it becomes ‘imminent’, and we know for a fact that’s foolish and that’s just an utter waste of resources.”

Hardened extremists would “welcome” government rhetoric of prosecuting people for treason and confiscating passports. “They want to see the fight. They don’t want to see half measures or soft measures because that drains some of the swamp of their support.” While there is a problem, it’s not one “that’s going to destroy England”, he added.

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