Syria crisis: UK draws up contingency military plans

The body of a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attack is lowered into a grave in Hamoria, Damascus (21 August 2013) The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and blames rebel fighters

The UK is drawing up contingency plans for military action in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, Downing Street has said.

No 10 stressed any action would be "proportionate", lawful and follow agreement with international allies.

David Cameron will also announce later whether Parliament is to be recalled, amid growing pressure from MPs.

A chemical attack is reported to have taken place on Wednesday near Damascus, killing more than 300 people.

Syrian rebels say the Assad government was responsible, but Syria's foreign minister Walid Moualem said on Tuesday this was a "total lie" and accused the US of using it as an "inaccurate excuse" to intervene in the two-year military conflict in the country.

'International law'

Mr Cameron has returned to London, having cut short his summer holiday to deal with the crisis.

A No 10 spokesman said the UK was considering a "proportionate response" to the attack and was considering a "range of evidence" including that from UN weapons inspectors who visited five sites around Damascus on Monday.


Whitehall officials say no firm decision is likely to be taken on how Britain will respond to last week's alleged chemical attack in Syria until at least Wednesday.

That is when David Cameron will be chairing a session of the National Security Council, attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers. It follows intense consultations between London and Washington, with Downing Street keen to stress the two countries are acting in concert.

Any military response, if it's decided on, is most likely to be confined to a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on selected Syrian military targets using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US Navy warships stationed hundreds of miles away in the eastern Mediterranean.

US vessels there are reported to have about 400 such missiles onboard, while a Royal Navy submarine in the region can also carry cruise missiles.

But Russia, Syria and Iran have all issued strong warnings against any Western military action.

But Downing Street stressed that no decisions had been taken on any response amid discussions with international partners and any action would be "within a strict legal framework" and "within international law".

Mr Cameron is to chair a meeting of the National Security Council - attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers - on Wednesday, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to Afghanistan.

It is understood the most likely military response to Wednesday's suspected chemical weapons attack would be a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on Syrian military targets fired from US Navy warships.

The Labour Party and several Conservative MPs have insisted the prime minister must explain to Parliament the objectives and legal basis for any UK involvement or co-operation before it happens.

Although the Commons voted on UK military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, there is no legal obligation for the government to get parliamentary approval before committing British forces.

The prime minister has the final say on deploying British troops in conflicts, using Royal Prerogative powers.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said it was right to consider all options but he was "not prepared to write the government a blank cheque" with regards to committing British forces and MPs must be allowed to vote on any proposed steps.

Residents gather around a convoy of UN vehicles carrying a team of UN chemical weapons experts at one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya on 26 August 2013 UN chemical weapons inspectors spent nearly three hours in the suburb of Muadhamiya in western Damascus on Monday.
Image taken from amateur video footage, a UN inspector, right, speaks to a man about the alleged chemical weapon attack at a makeshift hospital in Muadhamiya, Damascus, on 26 August 2013 The inspectors visited two hospitals and interviewed survivors, eyewitnesses and doctors over last week's suspected chemical attack near the Syrian capital.
Still from amateur video posted online shows a presumed UN staff member measuring and photographing a canister in the suburb of Muadhamiya in Damascus on 26 August 2013 Amateur video was posted online apparently showing a UN inspector measuring and photographing a canister.

"Is it a broad objective of changing the civil war or trying to remove (President) Bashar al-Assad or is it a more limited objective of trying to degrade his capability to use these weapons with impunity?" he asked.

Parliament is due to return from its summer recess on Monday but more than 60 MPs have signed a motion calling for a one-off session before that to discuss the crisis.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said he did not believe the action being discussed would have much effect on the Assad government's military capability and would further strain relations with Russia, a key ally of Syria.

"Intervention in the Middle East in the past has not exactly been in our best interests," he told the BBC News Channel.

Mr Cameron spoke to a number of foreign leaders over the bank holiday weekend, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French and German counterparts.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the use of chemical weapons is a "moral obscenity" which cannot be ignored but Russia has said there is no evidence an attack had taken place or who was responsible.

'Fabricated' footage

Moscow has warned any intervention without a UN mandate would be "a grave violation of international law".

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 states, including five permanent members - China, Russia, France, the US and the UK - who have the power to veto any resolution.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the BBC it would be possible for the UK and its allies to respond without the UN's unanimous backing.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said enduring controversy over the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 should not stop politicians from helping the Syrian people.

line break
Map showing the areas where the alleged chemical attacks took place in Syria
  • 01:15: 21 August (10:15 GMT 20 Aug): Facebook pages of Syrian opposition report heavy fighting in rebel-held eastern districts of the Ghouta, the agricultural belt around Damascus
  • 02:45: Opposition posts Facebook report of "chemical shelling" in Ein Tarma area of the Ghouta
  • 02:47: Second opposition report says chemical weapons used in Zamalka area of the Ghouta
  • Unverified video footage shows people being treated on pavements in the dark and in a makeshift hospital
  • Reports say chemical weapons were used in Ghouta towns of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma as well as in Muadhamiya to the west, but this is not confirmed
  • Syrian government acknowledges military offensive in the Ghouta but denies chemical weapons use
line break

More on This Story

Syria's war War in Syria


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    All governments know that real war is just like it is in the cinema. The best seats are high up and at the back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Why are the other Arab nations sitting watching? This is a UN issue, let them run the show and ignore American blustering.
    We cannot afford to get involved and nor should we, the money is better spent elsewhere

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    We don't need to look for hidden agendas here: just incompetence and the bankruptcy of international diplomacy. UK and US intervention will surely only make the situation worse, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I did wonder why 9/11 programming was being rolled out again, to remind the sheeple the bad terrorists are at the door again.

    And we are intelligent life?

    Not long now before the big red reset button is pushed and we go back to the dark ages

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Is there an end goal and if so what is it? I think our politicians have shown themselves quite capable of getting us into wars but when it comes getting us out of them, they are useless.

    The multitude of rebel groups, their lack of cohesion and ineffective political leadership makes it difficult to know who to support. Add to that the links many have with Al qaeda and it becomes impossible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    How much does it cost to fill a pot-hole in the road? We've always got money for war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    If the free world does not respond with force against people who use chemical weapons then next week it will be Russia gassing Chechnya or China gassing Tibet or Argentina gassing the Falklands.

    We should find who used these weapons and destroy them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    150. gloucester styley
    Once bitten, twice shy.
    Well said... and as George W. Bush put it...

    "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Whilst the gas attackes undoubtedly warrant the strongest possible reaction, one cannot doscount the possibility that the rebels themselves were behind this to attract international condemnation - and win themselves allies. UK involvement? Not in my name

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Why does the UK have to get involved, it is about time other countries stood up and were counted, I think what is happening in Syria is wrong but why does our Government feel they have to intervene and spend money we don't have trying to sort out other countries troubles, who appointed the UK as having the right to tell others what they can and can't do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Serious question, but what happens if the UN observers come back with evidence that shows that it was the Rebels that conducted the chemical attacks? What's Cameron and Co's plan then?

    I mean, don't get me wrong Assad is a brutal dictator, but it just doesn't make sense that he'd suddenly gas civilians for no military gain just when the Syrian Army has started to push the rebels back...

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    The British military should be renamed. It don’t do no defending of Britain, nobody is attacking the British Isles. It should be named the British Oil Corps, defending the commercial interests of Western Big Oil and Gas wherever they are threatened. They should be given new insignia. The insignia should include a picture of the planet in flames, with the words, we’ll help burn it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Why don't the various factions in Syria call it a day, negotiate a ceasefire and take whatever they can get at the Peace Table.

    If one side in the Conflict is prepared to kill 1000+ people in an afternoon it's time to talk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Hague is the face of the puppeteers - there is a hidden agenda to start a possible world war and Hague, Cameron, Obama etc are the catalysts.

    We need to stop this now, before many millions of people get killed including our sons and daughters.

    I think we should write to all MPs and tell them a vote for war will result in no votes at the ballot box as a start.

    If the government ALLOWS a vote...

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Please please please avoid getting involved in this. There is equal chance that the rebels used these weapons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    "proportionate, lawful and follow agreement with international allies."

    International allies being the USA who will say it is lawful. And it isn't agreement they mean - it is following the US orders like the UK government always does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Tony Blair is going to help the Syrians. We all know the kind of help Mr Blair offers. the kind that blows kids to pieces, creates poverty stricken one parent families and leaves the people living in a smashed to pieces hell hole without proper medicine. food or water. Haig says we don't need a UN mandate, so perhaps Haig could explain to EVERYBODY exactly how that is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    America can never resist the opportunity to go blast another country even when that country is involved in civil war. Little Britain can never resist following the US. With politicians like Obama, Kerry, Cameron and especially Hague all itching to press the trigger from behind their safe office desks we will lose more military lives and millions more pounds. God save us from this lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    If the US and UK are allowed to bypass the UN to protect Syrians (not that this is what it's really about) why are China and Iran allowed to use force to push Israel back to its legal borders to defend the Palestinians?

    Similarly, how would we have reacted had Russia and Cuba "intervened" in the civil war in Northern Ireland?

    Who is to decide who gets to decide?

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    How would you all feel if we did nothing and Assad used Chemical weapons to wipe out the majority of Sunnis in Syria (lets say 14 million) and no one is stopped him. Sounds ludicrous but why would he not from what we have seen so far.


Page 4 of 13


More Politics stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.