UK should join US in bombing Isis militants says ex-head of army
Lord Dannatt also says Britain should open talks with Assad in Syria, after Washington signals it might extend fight against Isis.
Britain should join America and start bombing militants from Islamic State (Isis), Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, has suggested.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Lord Dannatt said he thought it was inevitable that Britain would eventually start launching air strikes against Isis.
He also said the government should open talks with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as part of the campaign against Isis.
His comments about Assad were echoed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative former foreign secretary and chairman of the intelligence and security committee, who said it was sometimes necessary to work with “extremely nasty” people in order to defeat enemies who were even worse.
Dannatt and Rifkind spoke out as Washington signalled that it might extend the fight against Isis. At a news briefing, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Isis was an organisation “that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated”.
Until now David Cameron, who is still bruised by the Commons vote against his plans for military intervention in Syria last year, has been wary of getting Britain involved in the military campaign against Isis inIraq.
Although the Americans have launched air strikes against Isis, the RAF Tornado jets dispatched to the region have only been involved in surveillance.
In the interview, Dannatt, who advised Cameron on military matters before the general election and now sits in the Lords as a crossbencher, said Britain would eventually join the bombing campaign.
Stressing the importance of maintaining the UK’s close relationship with the US, he said: “I think the time will come when we will decide that our Tornado jets operating in the region won’t just take photographs and produce intelligence; they will start dropping ordinance in conjunction with the Americans.”
Dannatt also said the need to intensify the military campaign against Isis would require the west to open negotiations with Assad, even though the US and the UK came close to launching air strikes against his regime last summer following the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.
Asked if Britain should talk to Assad, Dannatt said: “The short answer is yes, I do.”
This was important because defeating Isis would involve intervening in Syria, where Isis established a power base before expanding into Iraq, he said.
“The old saying ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ has begun to have some resonance with our relationship in Iran and I think it is going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad,” he said.
“I think whether it is above the counter or below the counter, a conversation has got to be held with [Assad] because, if there is any question of air strikes over Syria, it has got to be with the Assad regime’s approval.”
Rifkind made a similar argument in an interview with the Financial Times.
“[Isis] need to be eliminated and we should not be squeamish about how we do it,” Rifkind said.
“Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier.”