Syria and some striking coincidences…
Bombing Islamic State, Issue 1421
First the obvious one: parliament’s vote authorising air strikes in Syria, on 2 December 2015, was immediately followed by two days of Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper drone attacks on IS-held oilfields there. This earned David Cameron plenty of gung-ho media coverage, and praise from Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. But then, er, almost nothing. As we noted at the time, in Syria over the next 36 days there was just one British attack: a drone strike at a checkpoint on Christmas Day (Eye 1409).
After that hiatus, Ministry of Defence records show a cluster of attacks from 10-12 January – the day on which the foreign affairs committee heard its first batch of oral evidence about Britain’s role in fighting IS. Oddly enough, the committee’s next session two weeks later was again preceded by a three-day blitz (24-26 January).
The next onslaught, on 29-31 January, came just before foreign secretary Philip Hammond flew to Rome for a meeting of the US-led coalition on 2 February, winning praise from US secretary of state John Kerry for “important contributions to this counter-Daesh effort”.
Then two more weeks of nothing were followed by three British air strikes just before Cameron held a video teleconference with Obama, Merkel and François Hollande (23 February). Another sudden flurry of strikes on the eve of the Anglo-French summit at Amiens on 3 March enabled Cameron to boast to Hollande that “British fighter pilots have joined their French counterparts carrying out military strikes against Daesh in Syria”.
Flurry of strikes
After that there were two and a half weeks with no British attacks. Then came three consecutive days of Hellfire and Paveway missile strikes (21-23 March) – almost as if to pre-empt the report published a day later by the foreign affairs committee stressing “the urgency of the fight against ISIL”.
From late March to mid-May there were eight whole weeks broken by just two days of British attacks in Syria. That ended with another flurry of strikes from 20 to 23 May – wrapping up one day before defence secretary Michael Fallon gave his quarterly update on Britain’s anti-IS offensive, which he repeated in greater detail two days later to the defence committee.
Those attacks destroyed two Daesh bases, blew up a checkpoint and, by happy chance, gave Fallon something to boast about. “Most recently, in the last few days, we have had the RAF engaged up north of Aleppo,” he told the committee, without referring to the many days before that when they hadn’t.
The scale of Britain’s role in Syria – 28 days of strikes since December – isn’t quite the decisive intervention Cameron promised in the original debate, and pales into insignificance beside the 3,787 US airstrikes there. No doubt it is pure coincidence that Britain’s attacks tend to happen when our leaders need to hype up their contribution to the campaign and make themselves look statesmanlike; but it just keeps happening.
More top stories in the latest issue:
How the Tories are building a big war chest – with much of the new cash coming from sources linked to less than fragrant non-UK interests.
Microsoft’s tax-dodging deal with HMRC – via the ‘Double Irish’ ruse – is one concession too far from the generous UK taxman.
EMPTY (OF) VESSELS
The lack of Royal Navy vessels to patrol UK waters despite a reported rise in migrant smuggling shows a lack of joined-up thinking by top brass.