In Iraq, operations to liberate Mosul are continuing to make good progress, with Iraqi forces reaching the outskirts of the city. In Syria, the Manbij pocket has been closed, restricting Daesh’s access to the Turkish border, through which they were bringing in fighters, and in September they were expelled from the culturally significant town of Dabiq.
The military success against Daesh in Iraq is to be welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that after the eventual liberation of Mosul we will continue to support Iraqi forces in their fight to defeat Daesh?
Yes. The Iraqi security forces, including the peshmerga, are playing the primary role in the fight against Daesh in Iraq, but the support and training provided by the global coalition, including the United Kingdom, has been a key contributor to their success. This fight will not end with the liberation of Mosul, nor will United Kingdom support.
What discussions has the Defence Secretary had with his counterpart in Turkey to ensure that the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militia are not working against the overall aims of the international coalition during the recapture of Mosul and, above all, that they are ensuring the protection of civilians and the provision of humanitarian aid?
I last met my Turkish counterpart a couple of weeks ago at the NATO Defence Ministerial. Key to the success of this campaign is that all the various parties involved in what is a complex situation in northern Iraq respect the sensitivities of the very complex make-up of the individual towns and villages. That applies to the encirclement and the liberation, but it will also of course apply to what we call the “day after”—the day after liberation—when we have to restore local administration and essential services.
Will the Secretary of State say what progress is being made in destroying and degrading Daesh’s capability to recruit and, indeed, to infect the minds of young people in this country? What success have we had on that front in recent months?
We have seen a reduction in the flow of foreign fighters from this country to Syria and Iraq. We have intensified the work we have been doing with other countries in strategic communications to lessen the appeal of Daesh by interdicting some of their material—taking down material from their websites and reducing the appeal they have through social media—and we will continue to work at that. Meanwhile, there are perhaps 200 to 300 British citizens still involved with Daesh in Iraq and Syria. We will have to make sure that they no longer pose a threat to this country and, indeed, are held to account for any criminal acts they may have committed.
I am sure the whole House is in agreement in hoping that Mosul can be decisively liberated from Daesh as quickly as possible. A devastating consequence of this ongoing conflict is the effect it is having on the city’s children. It has been estimated that about half of the civilians fleeing Mosul are children, while recent reports have found that Daesh are kidnapping boys as young as nine to use them as soldiers. What are the UK armed forces doing specifically to aid the children in this city?
Our armed forces are not involved in combat on the ground in and around Mosul. We have been supplying close air support, intelligence and training. It is important to remember that those children were suffering before the operation began—they would have been suffering in Mosul anyway—and I think we can best help by making sure, as these areas are progressively liberated, including the suburbs of Mosul, that UN agencies are ready to go in and provide the necessities of life and get those children out if they can.
Mosul has suffered deeply from cultural destruction. As we look forward to the ratification of The Hague convention, what will the armed forces do to limit further damage to the cultural heritage of Mosul and support the good work of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick’s cultural property protection working group, more catchily known as the monuments men?
We have consulted international partners on best practice and have tasked the Army with establishing a cultural property protection unit, which will help to ensure that cultural property is protected from damage and looting, will provide advice, training and support to operational planning processes, and can investigate, record and report cultural property issues from any area of operations. I know that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming our intention to ratify the convention, through legislation before the House, early next year.
Yes. The United Kingdom is absolutely committed to supporting the Kurdish peshmerga in their efforts to defeat Daesh. I visited them while they were training recently. Our commitment is demonstrated by our participation in the building partner capacity programme. Among the peshmerga are the Kurdish women whose bravery and resolve have had such a tremendous impact on the campaign. I am sure the whole House will wish to join my hon. Friend and me in paying tribute to the female peshmerga for the contribution they are making.