Eight things people get wrong about Syria and air strikes

By Anna Doble
Newsbeat online editor

image copyrightGetty Images

In the last week you have been hearing lots of views about the air strikes in Syria.

You have been told what they will and won't achieve in the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS).

And you've been sending Newsbeat your questions about the claims flying around on social media.

We put together a list of the statements being shared and got Middle East analyst Tim Eaton to explain what is fact - and what is not.

'Britain is at war with Syria'

Not true. "We're fighting one of the combatants that is fighting in Syria," says Eaton.

"At the moment there are a number of different groups fighting in Syria, so it's not as straightforward as saying 'we're fighting Syria as a country'.

"There was a vote in 2013 which was for air strikes against the [President] Assad regime - and that is the Syrian state."

'It's only a change in geography'

Not completely true.

We're talking about really big things here, namely international borders.

Those in favour of the strikes say it makes no sense to observe "a line in the sand" that not even the enemy is observing. This refers to the "caliphate" declared by IS that ignores the Iraq/Syria border.

"We're already bombing Isis in Iraq," Tim Eaton tells Newsbeat.

"But in Iraq the government has invited the UK to take part in air strikes. We don't have that justification in Syria.

"Across the border in Syria, unlike in Iraq, there are very few forces the UK government can support.

"But it's certainly true that Isis don't respect the border."

Eaton says the bigger question is: "When intervening in Syria does the UK have a strategy for the conflict as a whole, not to just bomb Isis?

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionRebel fighters with the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) during a training session

There are 70,000 'good' rebels

Not at all clear.

"Terminology here is important," Eaton explains.

"We often hear phrases like 'moderate forces' and 'extremist forces' and it's often unclear what those terms mean.

"Numbers probably do come to around 70,000 but they are from a variety of opposition groups.

"And it would be misleading to say they are a coherent force that could fight IS.

"They are primarily fighting President Assad. And many are fighting each other."

The bombing raids will be 'precise'

"This idea that you just chuck a bomb is so out of date," Conservative MP Johnny Mercer told Newsbeat. "We are using very precise, very lethal weapons."

But Tim Eaton says Britain must be very cautious here.

"While [RAF] weapons are accurate they rely upon strong intelligence.

"So far we've been reluctant to hit targets unless we're very sure about what they are.

"We don't have a lot of intelligence data to act upon so the truth is we won't be dropping many bombs."

image copyrightReuters
image captionRAF jets will carry out the new air strikes in Syria

'Only ground troops will beat IS'

More caution needed.

The phrase "boots on the ground" has become one of the most difficult for politicians to say since the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

That's because those wars lasted far longer than anyone predicted, with many British lives lost on top of a huge civilian death toll.

But Labour MP Wes Streeting told Newsbeat he thinks that only troops will get to the real bad guys and that air strikes always risk civilians.

So what's the truth?

"What we've seen in Iraq and Syria is that when ground forces [mostly Kurdish troops] are given air support, they have made strides against IS on the ground," says Eaton.

But this becomes less effective towards Raqqa [where IS is strongest], he says.

"The Kurdish forces are located in the north-west and Raqqa isn't traditionally an area with a large Kurdish population. So the question becomes who could be the forces there to attack Raqqa?

"The majority of the 70,000 forces are not primarily fighting IS, they're fighting Assad.

"It's unlikely that you would ever convince them to stop fighting Assad and focus entirely on fighting IS."

'Arab nations aren't doing much'

Actually, there is involvement from neighbours in the region.

"Saudi Arabia and Turkey both heavily fund the opposition, as does Qatar," explains Eaton.

"The trouble is the regional and international players in the conflict want different outcomes, which is only serving to escalate the conflict."

image copyrightChatham House
image captionTim Eaton is an expert on Middle East conflicts at Chatham House

'Britain must join its allies'

There's no obligation.

It's true that the likes of the US and France are already bombing IS targets in Syria as well as Iraq.

But does military action by the UK's allies mean Britain must join in?

"This is about where we want the UK to sit in the world," says Eaton.

"If we are to have a say at the diplomatic table, many argue we have to be at the forefront of the military operation."

image copyrightAFP
image captionA US Navy F-18E Super Hornet returning after carrying out air strikes in Syria

'Bombing IS will make IS bomb us'

"We're already being targeted," Eaton says.

"France wasn't targeted [in Paris] just because it was bombing Islamic State. We can't duck out of policy because we're scared of retaliation.

"But we have to ask - is this the best way to fight Islamic State?"

Chatham House is a non-government organisation which analyses and promotes the understanding of major international issues

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