Britain joins Syria air war; Putin vows more sanctions on Turkey
LONDON/MOSCOW – Britain joined US-led air strikes against Islamic State in Syria on Thursday, but Vladimir Putin issued bitter new denunciations of Turkey for shooting down a Russian plane, demonstrating the limits to international solidarity.
British Tornado jets took off from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus before dawn, hours after parliament in London voted 397-223 to support Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to extend air strikes from Iraq to Syria. Britain said they struck oil fields used to fund Islamic State.
“There are plenty more of these targets throughout eastern, northern Syria which we hope to be striking in the next few days and weeks,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said. Britain would send eight more warplanes to Cyprus to join the missions.
The British contribution forms only a tiny part of U.S.-led “Operation Inherent Resolve”, which has been bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for more than a year with hundreds of aircraft. Previously, the small British contingent participated in strikes on Iraq but not Syria.
The strikes have so far failed to dislodge the militants from a swathe of territory where they have proclaimed a Caliphate to rule over all Muslims, although Washington and its allies say they have helped halt the fighters’ advance.
Washington has announced it will deploy more special forces to conduct raids in both Iraq and Syria and help locate targets for air strikes. President Barack Obama said in an interview this did not mean a large scale ground assault like the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq “with battalions that are moving across the desert”.
“But what I’ve been very clear about is that we are going to systematically squeeze and ultimately destroy ISIL and that requires us having a military component to that,” he told CBS, using an acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.
Although the British vote adds negligible new military capability to the coalition, it took on outsized political and diplomatic significance since gunmen and bombers killed 130 people last month in Paris.
France had called for solidarity from Europe’s other main military power in expanding military action, and Cameron argued that refusing would be a dereliction of responsibility.
Most of the world’s powers are now flying combat missions over Iraq and Syria against Islamic State. But any consensus on how to proceed has been thwarted by opposing policies over the 4-year-old civil war in Syria, which has killed 250,000 people, driven 11 million from their homes, left swathes of territory in the hands of jihadist fighters and defied all diplomatic efforts at a solution.
Russia is bombing Syria outside the U.S.-led coalition. Moscow and Tehran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States and its European, Arab and Turkish allies want him gone and back his enemies. –Reuters