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July 20, 2013
British efforts to stop the forces of Syria’s President Bashar Assad could drag the UK into war to prevent the regime’s chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, Britain’s retiring General Sir David Richards has warned.
“The risk of terrorism is becoming more and more dominant in our strategic vision for what we might do in Syria. If that risk develops, we would almost certainly have to act to mitigate it and we are ready to do so,” the leaving Chief of the Defense Staff told the Sun.
“I think it is a very big question. If we saw chemical weapons proliferate as a result of what is happening in Syria then we would have to act,” he added.
Last week British intelligence warned of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons potentially falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda if Assad is toppled.
The parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said there was “serious concern” about the security of the “vast stockpiles” of chemical weapons amassed by the regime.
Sir David said no-fly zones over Syria would be “insufficient” to restrain regime forces and Western military would be forced to hit ground targets.
“If you wanted to have the material impact on the Syrian regime’s calculations … you have to be able, as we did successfully in Libya, to hit ground targets, you have to establish a ground control zone. You have to take out their air defenses. You also have to make sure they can’t maneuver – which means you have to take out their tanks, and their armored personnel carriers and all the other things that are actually doing the damage,” the Army Chief said.
General Richards steps down after more than 40 years in the British Army.
He served in Northern Ireland, Germany, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan as head of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).
The General referred to Libya where no-fly zones were used in conjunction with ground control zones to topple the regime of Muammar Gadhafi.
The analyst argues that everything depends on the objective of an operation.
“If you get involved in a military operation – either you want the regime changed – like you want President Gaddafi and Assad out, or you want to go in there just to protect people and keep the peace. There are several reasons and you need to clear objectives. But it’s an easy boundary to cross which takes you in a situation like you have in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
It’s still not clear whether it would be in Britain’s interests to intervene in Syria according to military analysts.
“Strategically I think everybody is, probably, quite scared of getting involved in another occupation of the Middle Eastern country. I don’t know whether this involvement is inevitable. In all depends whether the war is worth fighting. President Assad, a friend of Russia, a friend of Iran, maybe potentially a useful conduit to communicate with Iran or Russia. President Gadhafi was a friend of nobody actually,” the expert said.
Meanwhile, the US top military officer has told the Senate Committee that Obama Administration is deliberating whether to use military power in Syria.
Army General Martin Dempsey said during Congressional testimony that he has provided president Obama with options for the use of force in Syria.
Dempsey used the term “kinetic” strikes and added the issue was under deliberation inside the agencies of government.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited refugee camps for Syrians in neighboring Jordan and expressed concern at the plight of those fleeing the bloodshed.
“And this is building into one of the greatest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet as getting worse by the day, not better,” Kerry said.
Russia, Assad’s most powerful foreign backer, and the US, want peace talks in Geneva to try to agree the ceasefire and the makeup of a transitional government. But a British government source has told Reuters that the peace conference may not happen until next year if at all. He also said that the UK has dropped plans to arm Syrian rebels and believes that Bashar Assad might survive in office for years.