General warns of Taliban-IS threat

He said “many thousands” of Western troops would be needed to train ground forces to take on and defeat IS in Iraq and Syria.

General warns of Taliban-IS threat

General warns of Taliban-IS threat

General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux

Hard-line Taliban fighters from Afghanistan could join forces with Islamic State (IS) militants, a former head of the armed forces has warned.

General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux said air strikes alone would not be enough to defeat IS as the RAF announced the latest action by Tornado jets in Iraq.

He said “many thousands” of Western troops would be needed to train ground forces to take on and defeat IS in Iraq and Syria.

And he warned against shifting the focus away from Afghanistan, where there was a danger that the Taliban could form links with IS in support of their goal of establishing a caliphate.

In the latest British military engagement, two RAF Tornado jets used Paveway guided bombs to attack IS forces who were firing on Iraqi troops from a building near Ramadi.

The planes, operating out of Akrotiri, Cyprus, resumed sorties in support of local ground forces in Iraq after a pause in respect of the Muslim holiday of Eid.

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Tornado Jets

But in a sign that allied air strikes had not deterred them from seeking further territory, IS militants have targeted the Syrian town of Kobani, close to the border with Turkey.

Kurdish forces claimed to have repelled an offensive by IS yesterday, but reports suggested that a fresh assault had been launched by the militants and their black flag has been raised above a building in the town.

Lord Richards told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One that the battle against IS could not be won from the air, and warned that it could be too late to intervene to protect Kobani.

He said air strikes can “write down or reduce the combat effectiveness of an enemy” but “they learn how to respond to that, they become cleverer in their tactics”.

He continued: “U ltimately you have to seize and hold ground yourself to deny them the ability to operate.

“Only an army, or armies, can do that.”

Asked whether Kobani would fall, he said: ” The thing is, if that’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. It’s too late now to inject well-trained armies, whether local or indeed whether they are reinforced by Western troops.

“So one has to stand back and take a more strategic view and look at how you are going to actually confront Isis over many months, if not years.”

He said the Western allies, including US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron, had the “bare bones of a perfectly good strategy”, training local ground forces such as the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga to combat IS.

But he added: ” What I am a little bit concerned about is the scale of the challenge is not being met by the scale of the response required.”

To defeat IS, Lord Richards said: “Many thousands of Western and other allied troops will need to be involved in the process of raising and training and ultimately mentoring them as they go into battle.”

Lord Richards insisted that the rise of IS – also known as Isil or Isis – in the Middle East should not be seen as a separate issue to Afghanistan.

He said it is “important that Afghanistan is seen as part of the solution to the so-called Islamic caliphate, and Isis”.

The former chief of the defence staff said: “We have heard very hard-line Taliban talk about the prospects of joining the caliphate while others are talking peace, so this is not a united organisation and it never has been.”General warns of Taliban-IS threat002

The prospect of Taliban extremists joining up with IS was a “risk that we have to be well aware of” and political leaders needed to understand the threat.

“My worry is that those leaders don’t understand the scale of the response required, a key part of which is that we continue to look after, as necessary, and train and mentor the Afghan armed forces,” he said.

Lord Richards compared the militant threat to a balloon, where “you press one bit and it rises in another”.

“We need to continue to keep the pressure on these groups wherever they may come up and Afghanistan, after all we have done and been through, has got to be one of those places,” he said.

“My take is that we could do a little bit more in Afghanistan than I think we are planning to do.”

The US has taken part in air strikes against IS positions in Syria, but the British military effort has so far been confined to Iraq.

Leaders of the Kurdish resistance in Kobani have warned that air power was having a limited impact on the IS advances.

Idris Nassan, a senior spokesman for Kurdish fighters, told the Guardian: “A ir strikes alone are really not enough to defeat IS in Kobani.

“They are besieging the city on three sides, and fighter jets simply cannot hit each and every Isis fighter on the ground.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg signalled he would be prepared to support British air strikes in Syria if the situation on the ground becomes less “chaotic”.

But he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Additional air strikes in Syria will only have limited effect unless we can make sure that the forces we’re supporting in Syria really can make progress on the ground.”

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