MINISTERS ARE being pressed to disclose details of British military involvement in Iraq in the wake of reports that hundreds of troops will be deployed to help the fight against “Islamic State “militants.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the number of UK personnel who will take part in an international mission training Iraqi and Kurdish forces was still being finalised, but insisted it would be in “the very low hundreds”.
Labour has led calls for the scale and scope of the British contribution, which represents a significant swelling of the 50-strong British force currently preparing fighters for a new phase of the fight to retake swathes of territory seized by the jihadis.
Mr Fallon blamed a change in tactic from “Islamic State”, a response to air strikes and reconnaissance missions of RAF planes of recent months, for the need for troops on the ground.
He said IS fighters were “increasingly tucked away in towns and villages” as a result of the air strikes.
“That means they have got to be rooted out by ground troops. This has to be done by an own-grown army, not by western groups.”
The Defence Secretary’s announcement emphasised that the British military personnel will concentrate on ensuring local forces are sufficiently trained and equipped to mount an effective offensive against the extremists, who are also known as Isil.
It is believed one of the biggest elements of this will be passing on the experience gained during the 13-year war with the Taliban in Afghanistan in dealing with roadside bombs and other explosive devices.
Labour MP Graham Allen said the escalation represented exactly the kind of “mission creep” opponents of the initial engagement had feared – and suggested MPs be asked again to give their approval.
He added: “My anxiety is that we are just getting sucked into something again without having thought through what the end game is, what the exit strategy is. If they are going to up the numbers then should Parliament be informed and vote? Does this constitute an escalation?”
Mr Allen said he feared if troop numbers could be significantly raised without Parliament’s approval then the extension of operations to Syria could be, too. This was specifically excluded from the Commons motion approving action to Iraq.
Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker backed “steps taken by the international coalition to assist Iraq’s government in responding to Isil”, but urged the Government to provide further clarity on numbers and a timeframe.
Mr Fallon said: “We have not finalised numbers yet – obviously we have got a lot of kit back from Afghanistan that we can make available – but we are talking very low hundreds.”