Fallon talks up British forces’ role in fight against ISIS, blasts MPs’ verdict
Fallon was responding to a report published in early February in which MPs described the land grab by Islamic State (also known as ISIS, or ISIL) in northern Iraq as a “nightmare” and a threat to neighboring countries.
The House of Commons Defense Committee also described the UK’s role in combatting ISIS as “strikingly modest.”
A delayed response to the committee’s report was issued by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Wednesday, in which they accused MPs of using “inaccurate data.” It insisted the UK remains “at the forefront” of the campaign against IS.
The Defense Committee’s report emphasized the threat posed by IS, which at the time had suffered a blow by local Peshmerga fighters in the border town of Kobani.
Despite this significant victory, the committee expressed alarm that ISIS controlled an area roughly the size of the UK and offered a safe haven for 20,000 foreign fighters.
MPs went on to describe the unwillingness of British military chiefs to provide a clear statement of the UK’s strategic plan in Iraq as “shocking.”
While the committee did not advocate putting troops on the ground, the report called on the UK to step up its diplomatic engagement and help train Iraqi troops in counter-IED skills.
The MoD responded by saying: “The criticisms of the Service Chief’s ‘inability or unwillingness … to provide a clear, and articulate statement of the UK’s objectives’ are unfounded and based around an outdated understanding of their role within defense as responsibility for setting out a clear governance structure for military strategy does not lie with the service chiefs.”
The department also took issue with the committee’s claim that Britain only conducted 6 percent of airstrikes against IS positions, labeling it “inaccurate.”
“It is based on figures for Iraq and Syria and we only have parliamentary permission to conduct strikes over Iraq,” the MoD said.
MPs were also accused of misrepresenting the number of UK and Australian military personnel currently based outside the Kurdish regions of Iraq.
While the report stated there were 400 Australians and only three British soldiers, the MoD insisted both countries have deployed around 140 military personnel.
“The report recognizes the UK is right to respond actively to the threat posed by ISIL but we reject the Committee’s conclusion that we are making a ‘strikingly modest’ contribution,” Fallon said in the MoD statement.
“We have played a major role in the military campaign from the start and have conducted 194 airstrikes in Iraq, second only to the US,” he added.
Fallon went on to say how Britain has focused its military contribution in specific areas, such as air support for Iraqi forces, surveillance, and air-to-air refueling capabilities.
“The UK now has over 600 military personnel supporting operations, including over 140 in Iraq. We have trained over 1,000 Iraqi ground forces and have gifted around 400 tons of equipment and ammunition,” he said.
“As a world leader in countering improvised explosive devices (C-IED) we are leading the coordination of the coalition’s C-IED training program.”