Isis militants: UK should send ground troops in to combat jihadists in Iraq, says General Lord Dave Richards

Former Chief of the Defence Staff said it was a 'no-brainer' that UK mission against Isis would have to be widened

Western ground troops should be deployed to Iraq to back up the forces battling the advance of Isis militants, the former Chief of the Defence Staff has argued.

General Lord David Richards warned that airpower alone would not be enough to defeat Isis forces as he said he feared that political leaders did not appreciate the scale of the task they faced.

RAF Tornadoes have joined US-led bombing missions against Isis targets in northern Iraq after MPs gave the go-ahead ten days ago for Britain to join the military action.

But Gen Richards said: “Air power alone will not win a campaign like this. It isn’t actually a counter-terrorist operation. This is a conventional enemy in that it has armour, tanks, artillery, it is quite wealthy, it holds ground and it is going to fight. So therefore you have to view it as a conventional military campaign.”

He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “You either have to put your own boots on the ground at some point, or else you have to very energetically and aggressively train up those who will do that with us and for us. My worry at the moment is that the scale of the challenge isn’t being met by the right scale of response.”

Gen Richards added: “The issue is time. How long do we have? I am worried that without more intensive use of western boots on the ground, in a support role, we won’t do it in the time that we need to get on and achieve this in.”

He also said it was “a bit of a no-brainer” that Britain would have to widen its mission to join bombing raids against Isis positions in Syria. He claimed: “I’m very clear that is the view of the Prime Minister and most of his party.”

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear that the Liberal Democrats continued to oppose sending UK planes into Syrian airspace.

“I wouldn’t advocate extending the air campaign into Syria which is why we didn’t do it last week,” he said.

Mr Clegg added: “How you respond is not quite as straightforward as David Richards, much as I respect him, suggests. I don’t think it is a question of simply ramping up conventional armed forces again as if we were fighting state-to-state conflicts.”

* Fears have been raised for an 18-year-old Buckinghamshire grammar school student. Shabazz Suleman was reported to have slipped across the border during a family holiday to Turkey.

He was due to go to university, but sent a message via Twitter to a friend saying that he was in “Syria LOL doing aid work”, according to the Mail on Sunday.

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