UK edges towards military assault on ISIS
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will meet leaders and foreign ministers from over 30 countries in Paris to discuss plans to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The summit comes two days after the beheading of a British aid worker.
Jihadists released a video via social media on Saturday evening which shows the execution of David Haines, who had been held hostage since his abduction last year.
The masked killer in the latest video claims that Haines was killed because of Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to arm Kurdish forces to battle the jihadist group, according to reports.
“This British man has to pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State,” the executioner said, according to liveleak.
The militants threatened to kill a second British hostage, Alan Henning, who previously worked as a taxi driver in Salford before becoming a volunteer on an aid convoy in Syria where he was captured.
The British PM vowed to “hunt down” the militants responsible for the murder of a “British hero” following an emergency meeting of the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) on Sunday.
The Paris summit, to be held on Monday, is being co-hosted by French President Francois Hollande and his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Masum.
Around 40 countries, including 10 Arab states, have signed up to a coalition to help fight IS in Iraq and Syria. Representatives from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are expected to attend.
The summit is expected to focus on US plans to weaken the militant group by offering military support for Iraq, together with plans to stop foreign fighters joining the group, cutting its funding streams and trying to counter its ideology.
Iran and Syria have criticized summit organizers for not including them, despite their proximity to the conflict. Angered by the “selective guest list”, the Iranian government said the talks were “just for show”.
Meanwhile, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, said the coalition’s plans would fail without involving Iraq’s neighbor, where IS have also gained a foothold.
“Syria fought against terrorism and we shall be in the center of any real and serious battle against terrorists,” Mekdad told the BBC.
The US Air Force and Navy have carried out over 2,700 missions against the Islamic State in Iraq, many predating Obama’s expanded military campaign against the group. These include more airstrikes than previously stated by the US administration.
The 2,749 missions included surveillance and refueling aircraft, which let “US combat aircraft loiter over an area, perhaps for hours, to observe, classify, verify and in some cases attack militants’ positions,” the Pentagon said, Bloomberg reported.
During those missions US aircraft reportedly used 253 bombs and missiles to destroy 212 Islamic State targets, including Humvees and checkpoints.
Australia announced it was sending 600 troops and up to eight fighter jets to the UAE ahead of possible combat operations in Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, told CBS the US was not currently seeking to deploy troops on the ground.
So far, the UK has not committed to airstrikes but has contributed surveillance aircraft defended by Tornado jets. France says it has also joined the UK in carrying out surveillance flights.
The UK has donated heavy machine guns and ammunition to the Iraqi government and Kurdish fighters.
However, MPs have called upon the UK government to clarify its stance on airstrikes in Syria, amid an apparent divergence in rhetoric emanating from the Foreign Office and Downing Street.
Speaking in parliament on Friday, Conservative MP John Baron said US rhetoric on military intervention in Syria is considerably more hawkish than many UK MPs are comfortable with.
Ministers insist, however, that no decisions on deeper military involvement have been taken at present.
IS controls an area of Iraq and Syria around the size of the UK. The CIA estimates the group could have as many as 30,000 fighters in the region.