22 Aug 2014

Must Syria’s Assad be part of the west’s fight against IS?

With America’s most senior general calling for the military offensive against Islamic State to be broadened, some are asking if our enemy’s enemy – Syria’s President Assad – should now be our friend.

Following the murder of American journalist James Foley by IS, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said it was “an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated”.

He added: “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organisation which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border.”

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said air strikes had helped to stall the IS advance in Iraq, but admitted that Washington needed to take a “cold, steely, hard look” at other measures needed.

‘Beyond anything’

“They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well-funded… this is beyond anything that we have seen,” he said.

Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said in tackling IS, the US and Britain wold need to build bridges with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a leader both countries have said should be removed.

“The Syrian dimension has got to be addressed. You cannot deal with half a problem,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The old saying my ‘enemy’s enemy is my friend’ has begun to have some resonance with our relationship with Iran. I think it’s going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad.”

Lord Dannatt said if the US decided to carry out air strikes against IS in Syria, “it’s got to be with the Assad regime’s approval”.

Islamist extremism

James Foley’s murderer spoke with a British accent in a video posted online, and David Cameron is under pressure to do more to combat Islamist extremism in the UK.

Lord Carlile, former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation for the government, said the decision to scrap the control order system in favour of more limited terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) should be revisited.

“I do think the government could make a legislative response to the current problem by reintroducing control orders, or beefed-up Tpims, as they are called, to ensure that people who are identified by solid intelligence as presenting this kind of risk can be placed under controls which can prevent them activating their ideas,” he said.

Lord Carlile’s stance was backed by former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt.

The jihadist in the murder video is believed to be the ringleader of a trio of UK-born extremists responsible for guarding western hostages and nicknamed after members of the Beatles. He has been nicknamed “John” and the security services are trying to find out who he is.

US special forces tried but failed earlier this summer to rescue Mr Foley and other US captives held in Syria.