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Cameron stresses need for air strikes on IS in Syria

Cameron stresses need for air strikes on IS in Syria

LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron appealed to lawmakers on Wednesday to authorise the military to take part in airstrikes in Syria, insisting that Britain should help degrade and destroy the threat posed by the militant Islamic State group (IS).

But on a day meant to convey national unity, Cameron struggled to even get through his opening remarks, as outraged opposition Labour Party lawmakers demanded he retract remarks reportedly made at a closed-door meeting in which he branded opponents a “bunch of terrorist sympathisers”.

Lawmakers demanded an apology as the 10-hour debate got under way in the House of Commons, arguing the comment showed a lack of respect to those who disagreed with Cameron’s policies.

Everyone in this House should make up their mind on the arguments in this House. ... There’s honor in voting for, there’s honor in voting against,” Cameron said, stopping short of saying he was sorry.

The last-minute dispute threatened to erode the comfortable majority Cameron was relying on when he sought to authorize the Royal Air Force to launch airstrikes against suspected positions in Syria held by the IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL and its Arabic acronym, Daesh. Britain is already part of the US-led coalition, but has restricted its actions to Iraq.

“This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it’s about how best we do that,” Cameron said. “The question is this: Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people? Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”

Besides the work of the highly regarded RAF, Britain brings to the table an arsenal that includes the Brimstone missile, whose technology enables it to ensure accuracy against moving targets, such as gun trucks used by IS.

British officials say this could reduce civilian casualties.But any measure is politically loaded in Britain because many lawmakers fear revisiting the chaotic situation that occurred in the Iraq war, in which 179 UK service personnel died. The stain of that conflict weighs particularly heavily on Labour lawmakers, many of whom blame their party’s former prime minister, Tony Blair, for rushing the country into war on false claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and without a firm plan for its future.

“The logic of an extended air campaign is in fact mission creep, and Western boots on the ground — whatever the prime minister may say now about keeping British combat troops out of the way — are a real possibility,” opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

The British debate comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry said Nato members were ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State group — and held out hope of improved cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria’s protracted civil war.

“There are a number of things countries can do,” Kerry told reporters after two days of talks at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the American military will deploy a new special operations force in Iraq to step up the fight against the militants.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2015

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