David Cameron should not ask MPs to back military action against Islamic State (IS) in Syria until he can show there is a clear plan to both defeat the jihadists and end the bloody civil war in the country, a powerful House of Commons committee has said.
In a major blow to the Prime Minister’s hopes of extending the British mission against IS into Syria, the foreign affairs select committee said it was “not yet persuaded” that Mr Cameron would be able to address its concerns.
In a strongly-worded report, the Tory-led committee warned that RAF strikes would only have a “marginal effect”, but could be a “distraction” and compromise efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The MPs acknowledged the “humanitarian and security catastrophe” in Syria meant there was a “powerful sense that something must be done”, and that defeating IS – also known as Isil – was a “necessary goal for the UK”.
But they said: “We believe that there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating Isil and of ending the civil war in Syria.
“In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.
“We consider that the focus on the extension of airstrikes against Isil in Syria is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitators of Isil’s rise.”
The MPs added: “We were not persuaded by the government’s attempts to treat Isil in Syria and the broader Syrian civil war as separate issues.” On the legal basis for action, the MPs recommended pursuing a UN Security Council resolution, even though that would be difficult to achieve because of the impasse between the West and Russia.
In an apparent reference to the Iraq War, the committee said: “Questions about the legality of the UK’s earlier interventions in the Middle East have dogged its actions for over a decade, and the UK risks further reputational damage if the legal basis for air strikes in Syria is not clear.”
A bombing campaign would require “reliable” allies on the ground to identify targets and hold ground seized from IS, but the chaotic situation meant “these would not be easy to find”.
Russia’s intervention in the conflict “has complicated even further any proposed action in Syria by the UK”, the MPs said.