Parliament voted on Wednesday to extend British airstrikes to targets in Syria. Within hours, British Tornados had taken off on new missions inside Syria. I am writing a longer piece on some of the issues raised that will be published soon. In the meantime, three questions for both sides of the debate (Yes, the questions are largely rhetorical and I hope to address some of these issues over the coming week):
By any rational account, Britain’s decision to extend its bombing campaign against IS into Syria will not, from a practical point of view, signal a big change. Britain already bombs in Iraq. America, France and Russia already bomb in Syria. Eight more British planes dropping bombs a few miles away from where they already do so now will not make a whole heap of difference. It will neither start a new war, nor greatly degrade IS. So why the viciousness and ferocity of the debate?
Since August 2014, when the USA launched its Operation Inherent Resolve against IS, American planes have flown nearly 60,000 sorties in Iraq and Syria, launched more than 8,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and hit more that hit 16,000 targets. Yet IS remains little weakened. The number of active IS fighters is estimated now to be around 20,000-30,000 – the same as in 2014. If a yearlong campaign by the American air force has not greatly degraded IS, in what way will adding a handful British sorties do so?
David Cameron, Hilary Benn, and many of those backing the extension of bombing, argue that it is a moral imperative to fight IS. Last month, London teenager Silhan Özçelik was convicted of terrorism for wanting to join Kurdish fighters combating IS. Why is it a moral imperative to fight IS by dropping munitions from the sky, but a criminal act to join those actually fighting IS on the ground?