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House of Commons Hansard
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12 September 2016
Volume 614
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1. What assessment he has made of progress in the campaign to counter Daesh. [906239]

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The campaign against Daesh is making steady progress. With coalition support, Iraqi forces have freed Fallujah and, as part of preparatory operations for retaking Mosul, have liberated Qayyarah town. The Syrian Democratic Forces have taken Manbij and Turkish-backed opposition forces have taken Jarabulus and al-Rai, effectively denying Daesh its last border crossings into Turkey. As we approach the second anniversary of our military operations, I should like to pay tribute to the men and women of all three services, who work tirelessly to defeat Daesh and to keep Britain safe.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but given the announcement of a US and Russia-negotiated ceasefire in Syria, does he believe that Russia is now an unpredictable ally or an unwelcome threat in the fight against Daesh?

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As my hon. Friend knows, Russian military activity in Syria has supported the Assad regime, a regime that bombs, tortures and starves its own people. While we welcome the latest ceasefire from tonight, it is Russia that must make it work by stopping Assad attacking Syrian civilians and moderate opposition groups, and by helping to get humanitarian aid into Aleppo and other cities that have been starved of food.

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The G20 communiqué last week in China talked about terrorist financing. I know that we have done a lot in our military operations to try to degrade that, but will the Secretary of State say what more the UK can do to degrade the money that the terrorists are getting in from smuggling oil, from extortion and so on? What more can the UK military do to deny Daesh those sources of funding?

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The infrastructure targets that the RAF has been attacking in recent months have included oil installations to reduce the revenue that Daesh has been getting from oil trading. Sealing the border, too, will help to stop the flow of illicit goods and, indeed, oil across the border. We continue to work with our international partners to reduce the access of Daesh to the financial system.

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May I ask the Secretary of State why it took a year for us to supply ammunition for the heavy weapons that we supply to the peshmerga in Iraq? Can he assure the House that such delays will never happen again, and that we are doing everything that we possibly can to help the peshmerga in their fight against Daesh?

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We have supplied, as my hon. Friend knows, not only heavy machine guns to the peshmerga but ammunition for those heavy machine guns. I announced earlier in the summer a fresh gift from us of ammunition for those heavy machine guns, and I am very pleased to tell him that that ammunition has now arrived and is being used.

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The US-Russia agreement to tackle Daesh will clearly have an impact on British forces. Is the Secretary of State able to say anything about the deployment of our Air Force there, or indeed of our special forces?

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We do not, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, comment in this House on the deployment of our special forces in any country in the world, but he raises an important point about de-confliction of the airspace. At the moment, we are party to the agreement between Russia and the United States, and that agreement ensures that there is minimum risk of collisions or misidentification of aircraft. That, obviously, will continue to be the case after the ceasefire, which we hope will take effect tonight.

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24. May I ask my right hon. Friend to update the House on when the additional trainers that he has announced will be deployed to Iraq to support the liberation of the Iraqi people from Daesh? [906263]

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I announced in June that we would be sending another 250 British troops to the al-Asad airbase in western Iraq to complement the Danish training programme, as part of what is called the building partner capacity effort. I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the advance party from 4 Rifles arrived in the last few days at al-Asad airbase.

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This is indeed a critical time for the future of Syria. May I add the voice of Scottish National party Members to those from across the Chamber in wishing the proposed ceasefire in Syria well? We echo the call for all sides in this awful conflict to observe the ceasefire.

Given that the ceasefire is vital to the campaign to defeat Daesh, may I ask the Secretary of State what discussions the UK Government have had with both the United States and the Russian Federation, and what role the UK Government played in helping to broker this ceasefire?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks. The UK Government have been involved in promoting this ceasefire all the way back from the original cessation of hostilities, which was announced at the Munich security conference. We have been part of the intense efforts to get and to keep moderate opposition groups around the table to negotiate a future settlement for Syria, and we have also been part of encouraging the ceasefire as well.

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Talking of the moderate forces, what discussions have the UK Government had with the representatives of the 70,000 moderate troops, whom we were led to believe we were discussing ahead of last year’s decision to bomb Syria? Will the Secretary of State tell us what contact has been made and what assurances have been given by those moderate forces that this ceasefire will stick?

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We have been in contact with exactly those moderate forces. Indeed, representatives from the different opposition groups in Syria were in London last week for precisely those kinds of discussions. We very much hope that the ceasefire will stick now. A large part of that will depend on Russia persuading the Syrian regime to back the ceasefire, but it is also important that it is properly respected right across northern Syria as well.

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Challenging the death cult ideology of Daesh is vital if we are to tackle this type of terrorism. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress being made by the 34 Muslim nations, co-ordinated by Saudi Arabia, to defeat Daesh?

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Yes, we welcome the efforts that are being made, led by Saudi Arabia. I visited the centre it has established in Riyadh to lead this effort to make it very clear that Islam is a religion of peace and to co-ordinate the various programmes of de-radicalisation that are already in force across the Arab world.

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We all very much welcome the recent announcement of a ceasefire in Syria. As well as providing an opportunity for all sides to focus on defeating Daesh, it creates a space for further negotiations aimed at ending the conflict once and for all. The need for a negotiated settlement in Syria is as urgent as ever, particularly in light of horrifying reports of yet another chlorine attack in recent days. Will the Secretary of State tell the House a little more about the implications for the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Syria under the ceasefire details?

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I am grateful to the shadow Defence Secretary for what he has said and for his support. Getting humanitarian aid into Aleppo and some of the other towns and cities that have suffered is a key part of the ceasefire. I think one of the tests of the ceasefire will be whether the regime is really prepared to allow in these much-needed convoys.