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Put British soldiers on ground in Syria, retired army general urges Government ahead of Aleppo crisis debate

Nato veteran Sir Richard Shirreff says UK forces should be prepared to 'fight alongside' Syrians

Peter Walker
Tuesday 11 October 2016 14:10 BST
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Syrian pro-government soldiers patrol the Uwaija neighbourhood as they advance in Aleppo's rebel-held areas
Syrian pro-government soldiers patrol the Uwaija neighbourhood as they advance in Aleppo's rebel-held areas (Getty)

The British government should put troops on the ground in Syria, a retired senior army general has urged ahead of an emergency commons debate over the Aleppo crisis.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Nato, said the British should “absolutely” be training other armed forces in the war-torn country and should occupy the skies to enforce a no-fly zone.

He echoed the rhetoric of Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, saying: “'All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing'. At the moment we are doing not a lot except watching it.”

Sir Richard, however, was not clear on which troops, whether aligned to the rebels or leaning towards Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the British should be training.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Sir Richard said: "The notion of large scale occupations by Western troops of Muslim countries is off the radar scale, but what is not off the radar scale is proper capacity building and by that I mean proper training.

"Let’s be clear, this is going to need an international effort, and arguably the international effort should be led by the most powerful Western democracy of all which is America, but Britain can certainly play a major role in that.

"To train properly you've got to be able to commit troops, because the whole principle of training other armies is that you live alongside them and if necessary you've got to be prepared to fight alongside them, or at least advise them.

"It’s absolutely the direction of travel we should be going in."

The shelling of eastern Aleppo has killed at least 338 people, monitors say, since the ceasefire collapsed three weeks ago Reuters (Reuters)

Sir Richard also warned members of the UK government against putting their “heads in the sand”.

'All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing'. At the moment we are doing not a lot except watching it

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He also said British intervention was of “direct interest” given the waves of jihadists leaving for Syria.

As to which army the British should be training, he said: "We need to work out who we can work with and who is the least unreliable of potential allies in order to build up that capability.

"You either sit on the sidelines on your hands and say 'isn't this terrible' as we see even more ghastly scenes on our TV screens, or we say, we've got to do something about this.”

Girl cries out for father after Syrian airstrike

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who led the emergency House of Commons debate, said the Russians were acting like Nazis in their bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

Sir Richard also criticised the previous Labour government’s defence strategy for being very “backward leaning”, but said Brexit may be the “catalyst for a new approach”.

Retired senior army general Sir Richard Shirreff (PA)

At least 338 people have died due to shelling of eastern Aleppo, monitors say, which has included underground shelter-penetrating bombs and cluster munitions.

Around 250,000 residents are unable to flee because of regime siege barricades encircling the neighbourhood, and food and medical supplies are running dangerously low.

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