Syria: Coalition Forces

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

What recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the future deployment of coalition forces in Syria.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

I have regular conversations with the US Secretary of Defence on a range of issues, including Syria. Last week I had my first discussion with the acting Secretary of Defence, and the MOD will continue those discussions with the US Department of Defence.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

One of the many risks of the position taken by President Trump, as recently exposed on Twitter, is that it leaves the Kurdish forces and population in Syria vulnerable to attacks by Russia, Turkey and others. The Kurds have been an important part of the coalition of which we have been part. Will the Secretary of State give me some assurance that, whatever America does, we will continue to stand with those who have stood with us?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

Our whole country owes a great debt of gratitude to the Syrian Democratic Forces and many of the Kurdish forces that are part of it. I am in continuing discussions with my French and US counterparts to ensure that we do everything we can to continue to support the SDF. The war that they have waged alongside us against Daesh has been vital, and we should not forget the debt of gratitude that we owe them.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Following Turkish President Erdoğan’s refusal to meet US National Security Adviser John Bolton in Ankara last week to discuss the future of the Kurdish YPG forces fighting Daesh in Syria, is the Secretary of State worried that the withdrawal of US forces from Syria will allow Turkey to crush the Kurdish fighters, whom it regards as terrorists? Can the Government offer any further reassurances to the Kurdish forces that they will continue to support their efforts to overcome Daesh in Syria, and will the Government persuade our NATO ally Turkey to refrain from using its military might against the Kurds?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

We should recognise the fact that Daesh has been considerably degraded over the last few years and has been deprived of considerable amounts of territory, but we should not be complacent about the threat it continues to pose. We need to work with allies such as the SDF, as well as with Syria’s other neighbours, to make sure we continue to put pressure on Daesh and do not give it the space to do us harm in this country. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we also need to be speaking to our partners, including Turkey, to make sure that everyone comes to the table to create a long-lasting peace in Syria that, importantly, includes the Kurds.