Counter-Daesh: Quarterly Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 24th May 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:08 pm, 24th May 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made early today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the counter-Daesh campaign. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I want to update the House on the counter-Daesh campaign, following the December and February Statements by my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary. The attacks in Brussels in March remind us of the importance of defeating this terror. Since December’s decisive vote to extend air strikes to Syria we have stepped up our air campaign and today I want to set out the UK’s contribution to military operations and our wider efforts to defeat Daesh.

We now have 1,100 military personnel in the region on this campaign. I know the House will join me in paying tribute to them and their families. The RAF conducted 761 airstrikes in Iraq and, since December, 42 in Syria—more than any nation besides the United States. As well as providing close air support, we are targeting Daesh’s communications, command and control, and infrastructure. We also provide crucial intelligence and surveillance.

We have more than 250 troops in Iraq, who trained more than 13,000 Iraqi security forces, mainly in countering improvised explosive devices. The extra troops I announced in March have started to deploy and 22 Engineering Regiment in Wiltshire is providing bridge-building training, while MoD Hospital Unit Northallerton is providing medical expertise. The military campaign is making progress. In Iraq, Daesh is on the back foot. It has lost territory, its finances have been targeted and its leadership has been struck. Around 40% of Daesh-held territory has been retaken, including Ramadi and, last month, Hit. Preparatory operations for the encirclement of Mosul are under way, and at the weekend Prime Minister al-Abadi announced the beginning of an operation to retake Fallujah—but this will be a long fight.

In Syria, the civil war, the persistence of Daesh and Russia’s intervention create a complex situation. Despite the so-called cessation of hostilities, the regime continues to hammer the moderate opposition. In Aleppo, hospitals and schools have been repeatedly shelled. On 4 May, the UK called an urgent session of the UN Security Council to highlight the regime’s atrocities. Russia, the Assad regime’s protector, must apply pressure to end this violence. None the less, Daesh has lost ground and been driven from al-Shadadi, a major supply route from Mosul to Raqqa. Coalition airstrikes destroyed an estimated $800 million of Daesh’s cash stockpiles, while the RAF struck oilfields in eastern Syria which were major sources of revenue. We must build on this progress. Earlier this month, coalition Defence Ministers reviewed what further support coalition countries could offer and we are looking at what more the UK can do.

Daesh cannot be defeated by military means alone. This brings me to our wider strategy. First, on counter-ideology, the UK led the creation of a coalition communications cell to undermine Daesh’s failing proposition that they are winning militarily, building a viable state and represent the only true form of Islam. Some in the media criticised our proactive efforts to discredit Daesh’s perverted ideology. We make no apology for seeking to stop people being radicalised and becoming Daesh suicide bombers or foot soldiers. Secondly, we support political reform and reconciliation in Iraq, the ending of the civil war in Syria and the transition of Assad from power. The UK is helping to stabilise areas liberated from Daesh so people can return to a safe environment. We have contributed to UN-led efforts to remove improvised explosive devices, to increase water availability to above pre-conflict levels in Tikrit, and to rebuild schools, police stations and electricity generators across Anbar and Nineveh provinces.

In Syria, long-term success means a political settlement that delivers a government representing all Syrians and whom we can work with to tackle Daesh. Last week, the International Syria Support Group reaffirmed its determination to strengthen the cessation of hostilities and set a deadline of 1 June for full humanitarian access to besieged areas. It is concerning that, despite this agreement, attacks have continued and armed groups are on the brink of withdrawing from the cessation of hostilities. We support UN Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts to resume Syrian peace negotiations, the success of which depend on respect for the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and discussion of transition by both sides.

Thirdly, the UK is playing a full role, alongside our partners, in addressing the humanitarian crisis. At the London conference, we doubled our commitment to Syria and the region to £2.3 billion, which has already delivered 20 million food rations and relief items for more than 4.6 million people. But there remain 13.5 million people in need inside Syria. The regime continues to remove vital medical supplies from aid convoys, violating international law. It is outrageous that aid has become a weapon of war.

Fourthly, we are stemming the flow of foreign fighters, including supporting improved international co-ordination. At least 50 countries and the UN now pass fighter profiles to Interpol—a 400% increase over two years. The coalition estimates that the numbers of fighters joining Daesh have fallen to around 200 a month from a peak of up to 2,000. As Daesh is squeezed in Iraq and Syria, we have seen new branches appear, most concerningly in Libya. The Foreign Secretary visited Tripoli last month to reiterate support to Prime Minister Sarraj, and I spoke to the new Libyan Defence Minister yesterday, repeating our offer of assistance to the new Government of National Accord.

Last Monday, the international community reaffirmed support for the new Government and underlined the need for enhanced co-ordination between legitimate Libyan security forces to fight Daesh and UN-designated terrorist groups. Britain would provide training and support only at the invitation of the Libyan Government or other authority. I reiterate: there are no plans to deploy troops in a combat role.

Since this House supported extending military operations, we have intensified our efforts to defeat Daesh. There is a long way to go, and political progress must match military progress. But we should be encouraged. The fight may be long, but it is one we will win. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.