This came in a report developed by INDEPENDENT Newspaper which reported" The UK has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria as part of its role in an international coalition to defeat Isis, and deployed special forces on the ground alongside some 2,000 US troops.
But as the caliphate nears defeat, and after President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of all but a few hundred US troops, the coalition’s aims are shifting.
The Trump administration is now pushing for a mostly European combat force to administer a safe zone in northern Syria, according to diplomats, which is partly designed to prevent fighting between Turkey and its bitter enemy, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The US would also keep some troops in the country to ensure Isis does not regroup.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, told The Independent that a continued UK military role in Syria after the defeat of the caliphate “goes far beyond the policy MPs were asked to support in 2015.”
“The government will clearly need a fresh parliamentary mandate if British engagement in Syria is going to continue even after those Daesh remnants have been destroyed, and even after the majority of US troops have been withdrawn," she added.
A parliamentary vote in 2015 authorised the UK to carry out airstrikes against Isis to “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”. David Cameron won the vote by a majority of 174. But the wider mission being proposed by the US may require another vote.
“The US plan now is not anti-Isis, its anti-Turkey, which poses legal issues for Britain,” said one Western diplomat.
It was the impending defeat of the caliphate that prompted Mr Trump to announce a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria in December. That announcement shocked US allies, and officials within his own administration, who warned that a quick exit would allow Isis space to regroup, and leave America’s Kurdish allies open to an attack from Turkey.
The presence of coalition troops in Syria has acted as a deterrence in a wider conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the main coalition partner in the fight against Isis, but which Ankara views as a terror group.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to cross the border and enforce a “safe zone” inside Syria, which would inevitably lead to a conflict with the SDF.
The White House had hoped that the UK and France could fill the gap left by US forces, and reportedly pushed for a multinational force of 1,500 European troops to administer the safe zone. But both countries pushed back on the proposal, saying they could not remain without a similar US commitment. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “there is no prospect of British forces replacing the Americans” in Syria. France, too, has made clear they would not remain without the US.
In an effort to entice France and Britain to stay engaged in Syria, Mr Trump revised his plan for a full withdrawal and opted to leave 400 troops in the country. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been in talks with European counterparts about the proposal. But the role these forces would play remains unclear, and European diplomats are seeking clarity before committing to staying in the country.
“They realised we weren’t going to stay there on our own,” said another Western diplomat engaged in the anti-Isis campaign.
“We’re committed to the fight against Daesh so we’re seeking more clarity on US plans and the purpose of the mission. There are also important issues like force protection and rules of engagement that need to be worked through,” they added.
Speaking to The Independent earlier this week, Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations of the political wing of the SDF, said he hoped the US decision to keep troops in Syria would encourage Britain and France to do the same.
“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region, which is very important to maintain stability and protect our region from the Turkish threats,” he said.