Nato summit: David Cameron prepares ground for British air strikes against Isis

Whips seek backing from Tory MPs for imminent action as PM reveals Britain will supply lethal arms to Kurdish forces

deputy political editor

David Cameron is preparing the ground for authorising British air strikes against Isis forces in Iraq and Syria within weeks, following talks today with the US President, Barack Obama.

The Prime Minister struck his most hawkish note on combating the growing Isis threat as 35 heads of state and government met in Newport, South Wales, for a Nato summit dominated by the crises in the Middle East and Ukraine.

He said for the first time that there would be no legal obstacle to bombing Isis positions in Syria – and announced Britain would start supplying lethal military equipment to Kurdish forces resisting the Islamist advance.

But although Nato leaders debated how to combat Isis, which now calls itself Islamic State,  Mr Obama has yet to ask other nations to join American bombing missions.

Earlier Mr Cameron and the President held a 40-minute meeting where they expressed their “clear determination to confront the [Isis] threat and how to do that in the long term”, UK sources said.

The President’s failure to spell out his exact intentions frustrates some British ministers as well as his critics in the US, but Mr Cameron ramped up his rhetoric about the danger posed by Isis and is edging towards committing Britain to military involvement in the region.


Conservative whips have started taking soundings at Westminster over Tory MPs’ attitude to military action, indicating that the backbench mood was “hardening” on the issue. They are preparing to test the temperature in a Commons debate on the Middle East next Wednesday.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are indicating that they could back bombing missions as long as there was regional support.

Read more: Exclusive: The moment Isis seized British aid worker
British lawyers prepare war crimes case against Isis leaders
Analysis: Ransoms, oil and looted banks make Isis $1.5bn threat
Editorial: The case against ransom

Following the murders of two American journalists and the threat to the British captive, David Haines, Mr Cameron also pleaded with fellow leaders not to cave in to demands from Isis for money for their release. He urged them to stick to previous agreements not to pay ransoms. He said: “It is utterly self-defeating. It is worse than self-defeating. It is actually a risk to us at home.”

The Prime Minister ramped up the case for air strikes when he dismissed suggestions that bombing raids on Isis positions in Syria would need the permission of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“My view is that President Assad is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution,” he said.

Cameron speaks at the Nato summit in Newport, Wales Cameron speaks at the Nato summit in Newport, Wales (PA)
He said it was wrong to believe that air strikes in Syria would be illegal without Assad’s approval.

“I don’t think it’s that complicated because obviously the Iraqi government is a legitimate government… whereas President Assad has committed war crimes on his own people and is therefore illegitimate.”

Mr Cameron signalled that air strikes could not take place until the establishment of a new Iraqi government, which is scheduled to be set up by 12 September.

He repeated that the Islamist extremists sweeping across Syria and northern Iraq posed a direct threat to the UK – and added that strikes against them would be launched if it was considered in the national interest. “I’m certainly not ruling anything out and I will always act in the British national interest,” Mr Cameron said.

He signalled that the UK was ready to send British weapons directly to Kurdistan for the first time and to help train its forces.

Lt-Gen Sir Simon Mayall has been authorised by Mr Cameron to hold talks with Kurdish leaders over what support they need, as well as providing military advice. The Prime Minister said: “We’re prepared to do more and we’re considering actively whether to give them arms ourselves and whether we can more directly to train Kurdish militia, we’re already playing a role there but we can do more.”

Nato leaders at the summit in Wales. (From left): French President Francois Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi Nato leaders at the summit in Wales (Getty Images)
Britain has so far sent non-lethal equipment to Kurdistan, including a consignment of 10 tonnes of body armour and helmets delivered today. The RAF has also transported Albanian ammunition that is compatible with the Kurds’ Soviet-era weapons, as well as carrying out surveillance missions and humanitarian operations.

The decision by Tory whips to canvass opinion among their MPs is fresh evidence that Mr Cameron is moving towards endorsing military action if Britain is asked by the Obama administration to join bombing raids.

The Prime Minister will be desperate to avoid a report of his humiliating Commons defeat in August 2013 over joining military action against the Assad regime in Syria. The party’s whips were taken by surprise by the strength of the hostility among MPs.

Meanwhile, an announcement about sanctions against Russia will be made on Friday in Brussels, following talks at the Newport summit with the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

They are likely to include restrictions on Russian energy, hi-tech and aerospace firms, demands that state-owned companies cover their debts more quickly and increasing the number of senior Russians subject to travel bans and asset freezes. One British source said the moves were designed to force Mr Putin “to the negotiating table and off the battlefield” in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Cameron said that existing sanctions were already hurting the Russian economy. “It is making a difference. The Russian economy was growing, it is now shrinking. Russian banks – some of them are getting short of money. The Russian stock market, the rouble, have suffered,” he said. “What Russia needs to understand is that if they continue with this approach in Ukraine, this pressure will be ramped up.

‘‘The Ukrainians know that they have our support and this sanctions pressure is the right way to tell the Russians that what they are doing is unacceptable.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living