With permission Mr Speaker, I want to update the House on the counter-Daesh campaign, following the December and February statements by my Rt. Hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary. Since then the attacks in Brussels in March have reminded us of the importance of defeating this terror and since the decisive vote to extend air strikes to Syria we stepped up our air campaign and today I want to set out the United Kingdom’s contribution to military operations and our wider efforts to defeat Daesh.
Mr Speaker, we now have 1,100 military personnel in the region on this campaign and I know the House will want to join me in paying tribute to them and to their families who are not with them.
The RAF has conducted over 760 airstrikes in Iraq and, since December, 43 strikes in Syria – more than any other nation except the United States.
As well as providing close air support, we’ve been targeting Daesh’s communications, command and control, and infrastructure and also providing crucial intelligence and surveillance.
In Iraq, we have over 250 troops who have trained more than 13,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, mainly in countering improvised explosive devices.
The extra troops I announced in March have now started to deploy. 22 Engineer Regiment from Wiltshire is providing bridge building training while the MOD Hospital Unit from Northallerton is providing medical expertise.
Mr Speaker, the military campaign is making progress.
In Iraq, Daesh is on the back foot – it has lost territory, its finances have been targeted, and its leadership has been struck. Around 40% of the terriroty Daesh once held has been retaken, including Ramadi and last month Hit and more recently Rutba. Preparatory operations for the encirclement of Mosul are underway, and at the weekend Prime Minister Abadi announced the beginning of the operation to retake Fallujah.
In Syria, the civil war, the persistence of Daesh and Russia’s intervention have created a complex situation.
Despite the Cessation of Hostilities, the regime has continued to hammer the moderate opposition. In Aleppo hospitals and schools have been repeatedly shelled. On 4th May, the United Kingdom called an urgent session of the Security Council to highlight the regime’s atrocities. Russia, the Asad regime’s protector, must apply pressure to end this violence.
Nonetheless, even in Syria, Daesh has lost ground and has been driven from al-Shadadi, a major supply route from Mosul to Raqqa.
Coalition airstrikes have destroyed an estimated $800m worth of Daesh cash stockpiles, whilst the RAF has struck oilfields in Eastern Syria – a major source of revenue.
We need to build on this progress and earlier this month I and other Coalition Defence Ministers reviewed what further support Coalition countries can offer and we are looking at what more the UK can do.
Daesh cannot be defeated by military means alone, and that brings me to our wider strategy.
First, on counter ideology, the United Kingdom has lead the creation of a Coalition Communications Cell, to undermine Daesh’s failing proposition that they’re winning militarily, that they are building a viable state, and that they represent the only true form of Islam.
Some in the media have criticised our proactive efforts to discredit Daesh’s perverted ideology. I say to the House, that we make no apology for seeking to stop people being radicalised and stop them becoming Daesh suicide bombers or foot soldiers.
Second, we are supporting political reform and reconciliation in Iraq; and the ending of the civil war in Syria and the transition of Asad from power.
We are helping stabilise areas liberated from Daesh so people can return to a safe environment. We have contributed to UN-led efforts to remove IEDs, to increase water availability to above pre-conflict levels in Tikrit, and to rebuild schools, police stations and electricity generators across Anbar and Ninewah provinces.
In Syria, long-term success means a political settlement which delivers a government that can represent all Syrians, that we can work with to tackle Daesh.
Last week, the International Syria Support Group reaffirmed its determination to strengthen the Cessation of Hostilities, and set a deadline of 1st June for full humanitarian access to besieged areas. It is concerning that despite this agreement, attacks have continued and that armed groups are on the brink of withdraw from the Cessation. We support the UN Special Envoy in his efforts to resume Syrian peace negotiations, the success of which depends on respect for the Cessation of Hostilities, humanitarian access, and discussion of transition by both sides.
Third, the UK is playing a full role, alongside our partners, in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
At the London Conference, we doubled our commitment to Syria and the region to £2.3 billion which has already delivered over 20 million food rations and relief items for over 4.5 million people.
But there remain 13.5 million people in need inside Syria. The regime continues to remove vital medical supplies from aid convoys in violation of international law. It is outrageous Mr Speaker that aid has become a weapon of war.
Fourth, we’re stemming the flow of foreign fighters through better international coordination. At least 50 countries now pass fighter profiles to Interpol – a 400% increase over two years. We estimate that the numbers of fighters joining Daesh has fallen to around 200 a month, from a peak of around 2,000.
Finally Mr Speaker, as Daesh is squeezed in Iraq and Syria we’ve seen new branches appear, most concerningly in Libya.
The Foreign Secretary visited Tripoli last month to reiterate our support for Prime Minister Serraj. I spoke yesterday to the new Libyan Defence Minister to repeat our offer of assistance to the new Government of National Accord. Last Monday the international community reaffirmed support for the new government and underlined the need for enhanced coordination between legitimate Libyan security forces to fight Daesh and UN-designated terrorist groups.
Britain would only provide training or other support at the invitation of the Libyan government or by other authority. And let me reiterate: there are no plans to deploy troops in a combat role.
Mr Speaker, since this House supported extending military operations, we have intensified our efforts to defeat Daesh.
There is a long way to go and political progress needs to match military progress on the ground.
But we should be encouraged.
This may be a long campaign, but it is one we have to win and it is one we will win.
I commend this statement to the House.
For more information see Daesh: UK government response page on GOV.UK