The UK is making a significant contribution to the coalition of more than 60 countries, supporting the Iraqi security forces to deny ISIL the freedom to operate in 30% of the Iraqi territory it once held, helping Syrian Kurds take 17,000 sq km from ISIL in Syria, and degrading ISIL’s ability to refine oil or to access the international financial system.
I am grateful for that answer. It has been truly horrifying to see the atrocities being committed by Daesh in Iraq. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what difference the British training to counter explosive devices will make to the Iraqi security forces’ ability to recapture territory?
The UK military is focusing its efforts on areas where we can bring particular expertise and I am pleased to announce today that the new courses of counter-IED training for Iraqi ground forces are starting this week following the Prime Minister’s pledge in the summer that we would increase the number of personnel assisting the Iraqi Government’s counter-ISIL efforts. These 54 personnel, drawn mainly from 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) from Saffron Walden, are delivering life-saving counter-IED instruction to members of the Iraqi security forces at training centres in Bismayah and Taji.
We are part of the international coalition of more than 60 countries, as I said, and the hon. Lady is right that we need to continue to degrade ISIL’s ability to export its oil or to trade in oil across the border areas. There is specific coalition work under way on that. We have more work to do.
Some of the military operations—the strikes—have changed the pattern of refining. ISIL appears now to be getting some of its oil from small-scale wells rather than the larger refineries, some of which have been put out of commission, but we are intensifying our efforts internationally to make sure that where ISIL is attempting to sell oil, it is not able to gain the proceeds from it.
ISIL poses a direct threat to our national interest as well as threatening the stability of the middle east, and Britain should not be a bit-part player in combating ISIL on the ground. Does the Secretary of State agree that the time has come for Britain to extend its military operations beyond Iraq to take on ISIL in Syria?
I agree with my hon. Friend that ISIL has to be defeated in both Iraq and Syria, and we support the air strikes being conducted by the coalition against ISIL in Syria—air strikes which are now being carried out by Australian and French as well as American aircraft. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, there is a very strong case for us to be doing more in Syria to deal with the heartland of ISIL—its command and control—but we will only return to Parliament for authority to do so when we have established a sufficient consensus here in this Parliament.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that unmanned aerial vehicles have an important role to play both in intelligence gathering and in targeting in the effort against ISIL, and that the recent announcement of the 2% budget for defence over time will mean we can continue to invest in these vital modern technologies?
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Our remotely piloted aircraft play a key role in current operations in the middle east and the 2% commitment enables us to obtain more of them. We have a moral duty to protect the lives of our servicemen and women to the best of our ability, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft avoids placing our aircrews in jeopardy.
ISIL is being directed from an area of north-east Syria where Assad has no control at the moment. That is where it has its command and control, its logistics, its personnel and the command of its supply routes from Syria into Iraq. It is well away from most of the civil war that is raging further west in Syria.
This is not just about Iraq and Syria. On 24 September, affiliates of Daesh claimed responsibility for the explosion in the central mosque in Sana’a in Yemen. ISIL is taking advantage of the civil war to extend its operations in that country. What is being done to stop it?
We agree that the legitimate Government of Yemen is that led by President Hadi, and to that extent we support the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its partners to ensure that President Hadi can again be recognised as president of the country. We also want the fighting there to stop so that we can get much-needed food aid and fuel into Yemen, where millions of people are now at risk of starvation. In the end, however, this is a war that must be brought to a conclusion through some kind of political settlement.
As I said in my original answer, it has reduced the ability of ISIL to operate, particularly in Iraq. To that extent, the coalition strikes in Syria are useful to that campaign. Given that ISIL is a danger to the people of this country as well as to the security of that region, and bearing in mind that 30 of our holidaymakers, including four Scots, were slaughtered on a beach in an ISIL attack in Tunisia, it would not be right for the task of defeating ISIL in Syria in order to keep our streets safe to be left to French, Australian and American aircraft.
The Secretary of State says that military personnel from America, Australia, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, France, Jordan, Iran, Belarus and North Korea are already in Syria, along with the peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army and Daesh. What does he think the UK dropping even more bombs is likely to achieve? Should not the United Kingdom be using its influence in the United Nations to pursue peace through diplomacy rather than gearing up for airstrikes?
ISIL has been butchering our own civilians, killing people of other faiths and throwing gay people off buildings. With respect, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I find the idea that it would suddenly cave in to diplomacy in the form of a United Nations resolution a little naive. ISIL has to be defeated in Iraq and in Syria, and the coalition would welcome the precision capability that our Tornado aircraft could bring in Syria, as they have done in Iraq.
When the Secretary of State was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend whether it was still his intention or his hope that RAF jets would be flying over Syrian airspace to tackle the threat of ISIL/Daesh before too long, he said that “the logic is inescapable”. Opposition Members will consider any Government proposal on this with the utmost seriousness, but in view of that reply, will he tell the House whether it is still his intention to ask for parliamentary approval ahead of any such intervention and, if so, when he expects any such vote to take place?
I should like to begin by welcoming the shadow Secretary of State to her first Defence questions and by welcoming the team that she has assembled alongside her. I made it clear yesterday, as I have done today, that ISIL has to be defeated in both countries, not least if we are to support the democratic Government of Iraq and help to keep our own country safe. This is a new Parliament and we will continue to work with colleagues across the House to build a consensus that will allow the RAF to operate in north-east Syria and not have to turn back at the border. When we have established that consensus, we will come to the House for the authority to act.
Countless past campaigns show that air strikes are seldom, if ever, decisive unless they are in support of credible ground forces. What credible ground forces are fighting Daesh in Syria, other than the Kurds, in limited areas, and Assad’s, which are not also Islamist?
There are moderate opposition forces contesting against Assad, trying to protect their towns and cities from the brutality of Assad, who is of course dropping barrel bombs on them—on his own people. The coalition is helping these moderate opposition groups where it can, with training and with equipment. Our troops have been helping to train some of those forces, outside Syria.
If this Parliament were to approve an extension of UK engagement in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, that would be predicated on an understanding that we will be relying on reservists as never before, because of the changing shape of our UK defence capability. Will the Secretary of State therefore update the House on the roles currently being undertaken by reservists in operations against ISIL?