February 5, 2015 / 12:12 AM / 3 years ago

Britain must do more to fight Islamist militants: parliamentary report

LONDON (Reuters) - A British parliamentary committee said on Thursday that Britain should contribute much more the fight against Islamist militants and it appeared to have no clear strategy.

Britain has so far taken part in U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq, but not Syria. It has also provided some equipment and training for Kurdish forces.

Parliament’s defense committee said in a report released on Thursday that these actions were “strikingly modest,” with on average less than one air strike a day, and it was “surprised and deeply concerned” Britain was not doing more.

“There is a significant gap between the rhetoric of Britain and its partners, and the reality of the campaign on the ground...It will be very difficult to destroy Daesh,” the report said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Islamic State is a breakaway al Qaeda group that declared an Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq last summer and has killed thousands of people.

The government defended Britain’s role. Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman said Britain was the second biggest contributor to the international military campaign and was supporting the humanitarian effort as well as working to stop financing flows and tackle radicalization.

“This is going to be a long campaign...that is going to take time and patience and determination but what we are showing with our efforts so far is we are absolutely committed to it,” she said.

The Ministry of Defense said it had given 40 heavy machine guns and nearly half a million rounds of ammunition to Iraqi forces, and had trained Pershmerga fighters in using them guns, as well as in combat infantry skills.

The committee said it was not calling for combat troops to be deployed, a move the government has ruled out, but said Britain should meet a request from the Iraqi army to provide more training and help with mission planning and tactics.

It also criticized ministers and military chiefs for failing to provide a clear idea of Britain’s objectives or strategy in Iraq and said the government must radically increase defense and diplomatic engagement with regional powers such as Turkey.

Committee chairman Rory Stewart, a lawmaker from Cameron’s Conservative Party who formerly served in the British army and ran a charity in Afghanistan, said acknowledging previous failures in Iraq did not mean “lurching to doing nothing”.

“There are dozens of things the UK could be doing...to help address one of the most extreme threats that we have faced in the last twenty years,” he said.

The Iraqi security forces are weak and lack resources, the committee said, while the country’s communities are divided and regional powers remain deeply suspicious of each other.

“Given the deep polarization and structural weaknesses of the Iraqi state, we wonder whether containment and suppression of DAESH would not be a more realistic goal than total elimination,” it said.

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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