The Sun — Dec 4, 2015
SENIOR MoD figures warned against David Cameron claiming there are 70,000 moderate Syrian troops ready to fight IS, The Sun can reveal.
They wanted the phrase to be pulled from the PM’s first statement to Parliament on air strikes.
The claim was last night compared to Tony Blair’s “dodgy dossier” which was used before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and maintained the country could deploy biological weapons within 45 minutes.
A Whitehall source said senior defence staff argued the 70,000 figure was “misleading”, based on intelligence reports.
MoD officials said that number of anti-Assad regime fighters included groups with extremist links and factions who fight each other.
But the objections were over-ruled by the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Providing ground troops to take IS territory was a key concern among MPs, so the vacuum from bombing is not filled by the Assad regime or worse.
The Whitehall source added: “It’s got 45 minutes written all over it. Cameron didn’t think this through. If he really didn’t know about the MoD’s worries, he should have asked more questions about it.”
Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis, who voted against air strikes, predicted the claim would prove “bogus”.
Downing Street aides last night insisted the PM and No10 staff were not made aware of the concerns. The PM first made the full argument for extending the RAF mission from Iraq eight days ago.
He told MPs: “We believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally the Free Syrian Army, with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on IS.”
But on Wednesday, instead of “principally”, he said “the majority” of them are FSA.
The PM also conceded to the Commons that he was “not arguing that all of these 70,000 are ideal partners”.
Experts say there are somewhere between 65,000 to 75,000 “moderate” opposition fighters in Syria who could fight IS.
The 50,000-strong Syrian Defence Forces are not included in that figure as they are mainly interested in defending Kurdish areas.
–ALMOST half of Brits feel less safe following the decision to carry out British airstrikes in Syria, a poll has shown.
But more than half still back the Government’s decision to send the RAF in, the poll for Sky News revealed.