Forcing out Syria regime ‘could cause catastrophe’, says former Army general

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SENDING western troops into Syria too soon would risk creating a power vacuum that could allow chemical and biological weapons and military hardware to fall into the wrong hands, a former British Army general has warned.

Professor Sir Paul Newton, 56, who served in conflicts including Kosovo and Iraq, said taking premature direct military action to try to end the conflict could only serve to further destabilise the situation.

The retired lieutenant general, now a director at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute, has co-authored a report which argues that in-depth “scenario planning”, including recruiting members of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, would be vital to avoid the sort of protracted insurgency that dogged Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary William Hague told a Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco that “we do not rule out any option to save lives” in Syria, where the uprising has lasted 21 months.

Concern has also been voiced that western powers, by avoiding direct military force, are leaving a power vacuum that is being filled by al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups.

But Sir Paul said: “Although it may appear attractive in the short-term, the one scenario that must be avoided is sudden, uncontrolled state collapse.

“This may seem like a paradox given the pressing need to end suffering and the risk of the conflict spreading. However, it could be catastrophic. Access to weapons of mass destruction would be uncontrolled.”