LONDON/DAMASCUS: The outgoing head of the British Army said on Thursday the West would need to fight a war against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad if it wanted to have a “material impact” on his calculations.
In interviews to two British newspapers, General David Richards said there were arguments for and against such a course of action and the British government was still debating its options on Syria. But if a political decision was made to try to change the tide of the conflict to put pressure on the Syrian government, which has notched up military gains in recent months, Britain would need to intervene in the same way as it did in Libya, he said.
“If you wanted to have the material impact on the Syrian regime’s calculations that some people seek, a no-fly zone per se is insufficient,” Richards told The Daily Telegraph. “You have to be able, as we did successfully in Libya, to hit ground targets. If you want to have the material effect that people seek you have to be able to hit ground targets and so you would be going to war if that is what you want to do.”
The West would need to destroy the Syrian government’s air defences as well as its tanks and armoured personnel carriers, he added.
“That is rightly a huge and important decision. There are many arguments for doing so but there are many arguments for not doing so too.”
Richards separately told The Sun newspaper that Britain would have to act if it saw chemical weapons proliferation as a result of the Syrian conflict.
“We have contingency plans for everything,” he said.
Richards retires on Thursday after a military career spanning more than 40 years. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has promised lawmakers that the government would seek parliament’s consent before deciding to arm the rebels.
Meanwhile, on ground at least 29 people have been killed in fighting between Kurdish and jihadist fighters in northern Syria in the past two days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday. “At least 19 Al Nusra Front fighters and 10 Kurds have been killed since the day before yesterday in clashes in the oil region of Hassakeh,” the NGO said.
A Syrian military helicopter fired rockets at a pro-rebel region of eastern Lebanon in the early hours of Thursday, a security source said.
“A military helicopter violated Lebanese airspace and fired four rockets at 01:30 am in the Arsal area, two of which exploded, causing damage,” the source said on condition of anonymity. The attack did not cause any injuries.
On Wednesday, the group said Syrian Kurdish fighters had pushed members of Nusra and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant out of the town of Ras Al Ain and its nearby border crossing with Turkey.
The clashes between Kurdish fighters and jihadists erupted after Al-Nusra Front militants attacked a convoy of Kurdish women fighters, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Observatory said that jihadist fighters began firing rockets at Ras Al Ain, in western Hassakeh, after their expulsion.
They also attacked several roadblocks manned by Kurdish fighters and clashes were ongoing in the village of Tall Alu and Karhok in eastern Hassakeh, the group added.
Kurdish fighters meanwhile advanced elsewhere in the northeastern province, taking control of part of the Sweidiya area of Hassakeh, which is the only majority Kurdish province in Syria.