Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Face a Long, Hard Slog in an Ever-Changing Battleground; Commentary

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Face a Long, Hard Slog in an Ever-Changing Battleground; Commentary

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Fox Defence Editor

THERE was a palpable sense of relief in government circles as ministers toured television and radio studios this morning to explain how they will build on the vote for air strikes in Syria.

Overnight four RAF Tornados dropped bombs on the Omar oilfield in eastern Syria, a prime source of revenue for Islamic State. It has been hit at least twice before by America and France.

At the same time, six Typhoon aircraft left RAF Lossiemouth in northeast Scotland to add to Britain's aerial muscle over Syria and Iraq.

None of this display of verbal and military force can disguise the fact that now comes the really difficult part in trying to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion. Even an optimist would not bet on that happening next year, the year after or even the year after that.

The twin tasks of stabilising Syria and Iraq and bringing some sort of peace there, and defeating IS on the ground in the chosen territory now claimed as its state, are bewilderingly difficult. Too many players, both local and international, want different things and sometimes these are directly contradictory. Despite the ramping up of the British air effort, defeat or even a gradual pushback of IS can only be achieved by active and effective forces on the ground. Two recent chiefs of the British Army, Generals Jackson and Dannatt, have been pointing this out with graphic clarity.

It is hard to conceive how an indigenous Syrian force could by itself take and hold the ground occupied now by IS and then assist a new civilian government which has the support of the majority of the population, of whom 6.5 million are refugees displaced in their own lands.

The notion that President Bashar Assad's brutalised military can work with the "moderate" opposition forces a notion often mentioned by the British Government's staunchest supporters is a fantasy. …

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