Air strikes alone will not defeat Islamic State - Tony Blair

Former British PM says Western powers should prepare to commit ground troops

The UK and other Western powers should be prepared to commit ground troops to fight against extremists like Islamic State, former British prime minister Tony Blair has said. Photograph:  Gus Ruelas/Reuters.

The UK and other Western powers should be prepared to commit ground troops to fight against extremists like Islamic State, former British prime minister Tony Blair has said. Photograph: Gus Ruelas/Reuters.

 

The UK and other Western powers should be prepared to commit ground troops to fight against extremists like Islamic State, former British prime minister Tony Blair has said.

Air strikes alone will not be enough to defeat Islamic State or similar groups, and while training and equipping local fighters may work, the option of sending in combat soldiers should not be ruled out.

Mr Blair, whose premiership came to be defined by the Iraq War, acknowledged there was “no appetite” for ground engagement against IS but warned: “You cannot uproot this extremism unless you go to where it originates from and fight it.”

He said the struggle against Islamist extremism should be seen as an international fight rather than a series of isolated conflicts, comparing it to the fascist and communist ideologies of the last century.

In an essay on his Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s website, the former prime minister also stressed the importance of engaging with a wider spectrum of radical Islamism, not just the violent fringe.

He said because extremists such as Islamic State - formerly known as Isis - are “fanatical” and “prepared both to kill and to die” there could be no solution that does not involve force “with a willingness to take casualties in carrying the fight through to the end”.

“This is where we get to the rub. We have to fight groups like Isis,” he said.

“There can be an abundance of diplomacy, all necessary relief of humanitarian suffering, every conceivable statement of condemnation which we can muster, but unless they’re accompanied by physical combat, we will mitigate the problem but not overcome it.”

The US and France have already launched air strikes against IS targets, and the UK has not ruled out joining the bombing campaign against the extremists, who have occupied a large area of Iraq and Syria.

The British government has supplied arms including heavy machine guns to Kurdish fighters on the front line and has also been involved in transporting materiel supplied by other countries.

But Mr Blair said: “Air power is a major component of this, to be sure, especially with the new weapons available to us. But - and this is the hard truth - air power alone will not suffice. They can be hemmed in, harried and to a degree contained by air power. But they can’t be defeated by it.

“If possible, others closer to the field of battle, with a more immediate interest, can be given the weapons and the training to carry the fight; and in some, perhaps many cases, that will work. It may work in the case of Isis.

“There is real evidence that now countries in the Middle East are prepared to shoulder responsibility and I accept fully there is no appetite for ground engagement in the West.

“But we should not rule it out in the future if it is absolutely necessary.

“Provided that there is the consent of the population directly threatened and with the broadest achievable alliance ... we have, on occasions, to play our part.”

PA