Source: Express UK
MORE than a thousand Royal Marines could be sent to Syria as the conflict’s humanitarian toll reaches crisis levels.
It comes two days after foreign secretary William Hague urged for more involvement by the International community, and a week after defence chief Gen Sir David Richards confirmed the Ministry of Defence was making “very limited contingency plans” for military action.
However last night senior army figures warned that any British troops sent to Syria must be deployed in sufficient numbers and with the power to use lethal force if they are to retain a quick exit strategy.
Both Britain and France currently have more than 2,000 troops in the Mediterranean as part of the Exercise Cougar 12 joint amphibious war games, which will culminate in seaborne landings in Turkey later this month.
The British element, officially termed the Response Force Task Group, includes 550 Royal Marines from 45 Commando and 480 from 30 Commando, as well as additional amphibious assault units.
Led by Brigadier Martin Smith and his headquarters staff the UK 3 Commando, it also includes the assault ship HMS Bulwark, the helicopter carrier Illustrious, several warships and a nuclear submarine and is carrying humanitarian supplies.
After war games in Corsica and Albania, it will join 15 nations in a major exercise off Turkey in which 16,000 troops will take part from Canada, France, Holland, Sweden and the United States.
Last night Col Richard Kemp, former leader of British forces in Afghanistan, warned that any compromise in Britain’s military response could draw it in to another Middle Eastern quagmire.
“The most essential thing, should we feel the need to go into Syria, is that we can do it properly. That means a proper exit strategy, having a force big enough to undertake the mission at hand, and a remit to use lethal force if it’s necessary.
“We cannot afford to be dragged into another long term conflict.”
Earlier this month the UN warned of a humanitarian crisis in Syria that is affecting more than 4 million people. Mr. Hague will be discussing options at a meeting with EU partners in Brussels tomorrow.
Last night analysts said the UK would probably not need a special UN mandate to provide humanitarian assistance, but would seek legal cover for any armed intervention aimed at removing dictator Bashar al Assad.
The stakes for regime change are high, said Dave Hartwell, senior Middle East analyst for IHS Jane’s, last night.
“It is difficult to see where any British military assistance would come from, other than those forces currently deployed with Cougar 12,” he said.
“It is entirely possible that Britain could render humanitarian assistance in the form of British troops on the ground under current UN mandates.
“Military intervention, however, might be more tricky, legally, though this hasn’t stopped Britain in the past.
“However, there is no doubt that the removal of Assad, and the installation of a Sunni government in Syria, would deprive Iran and Hezbollah of a vital ally.”
A spokesman for the MoD said: “The whole point of the RFTG is that it is ready to deploy on tasks as required by HM Government. Should any such task emerge, the RFTG would be ready to deploy from wherever it happened to be – and that could as easily be from the UK as the Mediterranean.”
While no decision for military intervention by Britain has yet been taken, experts say the force represents the most likely source of boots on the ground once the green light is given.