A FORMER head of the armed forced has warned that Taliban fighters from Afghanistan could join forces with Islamic State (IS) militants, as British jets took part in fresh air strikes in Iraq.
General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux said air strikes alone would not be enough to defeat IS, and “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 Muslim state, or caliphate. Lord Richards spoke to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One yesterday as two RAF Tornado jets, operating out of Cyprus, used Paveway guided bombs to attack IS forces who were firing on Iraqi troops from a building near Ramadi.
Meanwhile, IS militants targeted the Syrian town of Kobani, close to the border with Turkey, suggesting the strikes had not deterred them from seeking further territory. Lord Richards warned that it was “too late now” to intervene to protect Kobani.
“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.
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: “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.”
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.
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.
David Cameron yesterday met with French prime minister Manuel Valls to discuss measures to prevent would-be jihadis travelling to Iraq and Syria to join IS.
France has also launched air strikes in Iraq, and both nations have seen hundreds of their citizens travel to the Middle East to potentially link up with militant groups.
Before the meeting, Mr Cameron said: “There’s a lot to discuss today. As strong allies within the European Union and Nato, we both face the same challenge in responding to Isil in Iraq and Syria. I’m sure we will discuss that and how we prevent fighters from leaving our shores to go to these countries.”
Two British extremists were among dozens of prisoners handed back to IS by the Turkish government in exchange for the release of diplomats, The Times has reported.
Shabazz Suleman, 18, from Buckinghamshire, and a 26-year-old Briton are among as many as 180 fighters traded with IS to secure the release of Turkish consular staff. Suleman travelled to Syria last summer as a member of a convoy that delivered humanitarian aid to Aleppo as part of a Turkish charity.
Details of the hostage swap emerged just days after a video appeared purportedly showing British aid worker Alan Henning being murdered by IS militants.