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Analysts: UK Airstrikes in Syria Won't Turn Tide Against Islamic State

Britain’s Cameron Seeks to Join US-led Airstrikes in Syria
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British Prime Minister David Cameron has appealed to lawmakers to back airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, but analysts have cautioned that the air campaign will not defeat the terror group. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

British warplanes are already conducting airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq. That operation, Prime Minister David Cameron told British lawmakers Thursday, must be extended to the group’s heartland in Syria.

“We do face a fundamental threat to our security," he said. "We can't wait for a political transition; we have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands right now.”

Striking IS from the skies over Syria may reduce the threat, but some analysts say it won’t make the West safe from attacks like those in Paris.

“What we need to be careful about here is to overemphasize the control that Islamic State has on attacks which occur in Europe, or even in the Sinai," said Michael Stephens, a research fellow with the Qatar-based Royal United Services Institute. "I think there is some evidence that those were slightly autonomous — and that’s a completely different issue. That’s a homeland security issue.”

Other analysts say the strikes won't defeat the IS militants.

“[Airstrikes] don’t hurt the group’s infrastructure," said Sajjan Gohel, an international security researcher with the U.K.-based Asia-Pacific Foundation. "More needs to be done to dismantle ISIS on the ground.”

Cameron is seeking to create a broad alliance against IS militants but ruled out deploying British troops on the ground.

“I think this has been the problem since 2013, of finding adequate forces, both in Iraq and Syria, that can take on the Islamic State and then secure and hold those territories," said Stephens. "And outside the Kurds, that’s been a challenge.”

British warplanes would add to the growing complexity of nations operating against IS in the skies above Syria — including the Syrian air force, U.S.-led coalition planes and Russian fighter jets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced his support Thursday for coordinating those operations.

“We hope that a really wide international anti-terror coalition will be formed and it will stand up as a well-coordinated, united force,” he said.

Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet Tuesday complicates any Western-Russian alliance. The two sides also differ on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — whom Moscow and its Iranian allies want to keep in power.

“Military activity with Russia does not preclude the fact that we have differences with the Russians over Bashar al-Assad," said Stephens. "Those have to be respected and negotiated through.”

British lawmakers will be given a vote on extending the airstrikes to Syria, but only when the government is sure the bill will not be defeated. The main opposition Labor Party has yet to declare its voting intentions.