Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alex MacDonald — Who are the 70,000 fighters the UK will be backing in Syria?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday delivered a speech to the House of Commons in which he set out future plans for UK military intervention in Syria.
In response to criticism that airstrikes in Syria would not be enough to ensure the defeat of Islamic State, the Prime Minister stated that there were 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters “who do not belong to extremist groups" able to fight against IS and work with the US-led coalition forces.
In a statement accompanying the speech - which came in response to a broadly critical report by the Foreign Affairs Committee - Cameron stated that allies in Syria included the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.
He also referred to “moderate armed groups in northern Syria” who had managed to defend “territory north of Aleppo” from IS.
The question of supporting “moderate” groups in Syria has, however, proved controversial in the past, as a large number of groups in Syria opposed to both the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and IS have been identified as Islamist or Salafist Jihadist....
Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Middle East Eye that he had received information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the 70,000 number cited by David Cameron did not include some 50,000 troops of the YPG.

Though the Kurdish YPG is seen as "moderate" and have been one of the most effective ground forces against IS, their desire to primarily liberate land seen as part of a future Kurdish state has meant their scope has been limited, with Cameron today warning that "only moderate Sunni Arabs can retake traditionally Sunni Arab areas such as Raqqa".

Stephens added that the only information given to him was that the 70,000 number included groups that fought both Assad and IS. No specific groups were mentioned. 
“It's unclear as to the composition of the groups and this needs to be clarified,” Stephens said....

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