UK

Syria air strikes will help bring settlement, says Cameron

David Cameron Image copyright PA

Conducting air strikes against so-called Islamic State in Syria will help to bring a political settlement to the country, David Cameron has insisted.

Mr Cameron also said reaching such an agreement was "absolutely crucial".

The prime minister's comments come after the RAF began bombing IS in Syria, following MPs voting to allow air strikes to be extended from Iraq.

Tornados flew a reconnaissance mission in Syria overnight and dropped a bomb in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence said.

A statement on the MoD website said the two Tornado GR-4 jets over eastern Syria were "gathering intelligence on terrorist activity".

The MoD said a second pair of GR-4s patrolled over western Iraq, where they provided air support to Iraqi forces fighting IS militants and they dropped a Paveway IV guided bomb after a sniper attack.

Air strikes were carried out on six targets of IS, which the government refers to as Daesh and has also been referred to as Isis and Isil, in Syria on Thursday.

Two more Tornados and six Typhoons have arrived at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus, from where they will join the attacks.

It comes as Germany's parliament voted to send military support to the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria.

'Positive step'

Speaking during a visit to Bulgaria on Friday, where he met Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Mr Cameron said the strikes would help bring about a political settlement in Syria because they "take the action to Daesh".

"We do need to have a moderate opposition in Syria that can be part of the future government," he said.

"So the political process and the action against Daesh to keep us safe at home go hand in hand."

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Media captionLyse Doucet answers three questions on the UK's involvement

Mr Cameron said reaching an agreement was "absolutely crucial but we can't wait for that to happen before we start taking action against Daesh".

However, Free Syrian Army spokesman Issam al-Reis told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that British air strikes "will not make a big difference".

"It will be just a few more jets flying across Syria and hitting Isis for more than a year," said Mr al-Reis.

"Without boots on the ground it will be difficult to make any change."

He said air strikes were a "positive step" but the strategy of the attacks was important.

Syria's minister of information Omran al-Zoubi told the BBC that political transition would not happen without the country's president Bashar al-Assad.

He said air strikes would not "win the fight against terrorism" and said: "It's all noise and bombing and propaganda, with no results on the ground."

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that the UK's contribution to the fight against IS was "important".

"Britain adds more strength to the fight against Isil and I welcome that," he said.

"I think no-one believes that military air strikes will be enough in the fight against Isil, but it is important because it is contributing to degrading Isil and to limit their military capacities."

Former prime minister Tony Blair welcomed the decision by MPs to authorise UK action against IS in Syria, in the Kissinger Lecture delivered at the Library of Congress in Washington on Thursday.

The former Labour leader outlined a five-point plan, including confronting the Islamist ideology and theologians who were tackling extremism.

In an article published by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Mr Blair said historical events showed Islamist extremism had to be defeated "by strong and sustained actions".

"We need to build resilience within civil society to combat the ideology and propaganda of the extremists," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Air strikes were launched shortly after MPs back action against IS in Syria on Wednesday

The SNP's leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, questioned Mr Cameron's claims 70,000 fighters in Syria would be able to take on IS.

Mr Robertson said there was "absolutely no evidence" they would deploy as a unified army.

"David Cameron's reliance on this figure is all too reminiscent of Tony Blair's totally discredited claims in the dodgy dossier of 2003 that the UK was just 45 minutes from attack by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Air strikes were launched shortly after MPs overwhelmingly backed UK military action against IS in Syria, by 397 votes to 223, after a 10-hour Commons debate on Wednesday.

During his visit, Mr Cameron visited Bulgaria's border with Turkey with Mr Borissov.

Speaking at the border, he said:

  • Britain "will always maintain" its own borders
  • It is important that Europe has strong external borders
  • There are "real lessons to be learned" from the way Bulgaria manages its border with Turkey

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