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British Lawmakers Will Not Support Extension of Syria Airstrikes

FILE - A British tornado jet prepares for takeoff at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
FILE - A British tornado jet prepares for takeoff at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

A key committee in Britain's parliament issued a report Tuesday saying lawmakers will not support expanding airstrikes into Syria unless Prime Minister David Cameron's government answers a number of questions about the legal, political and military risks.

Britain has been a part of the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, but Cameron has failed to gain enough support to send forces to Syria on the same mission.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee highlighted the need to focus on finding a political solution to Syria's crisis and said British airstrikes could both hurt that effort and the country's standing in possible negotiations.

"We consider that the focus on the extension of airstrikes against ISIL (Islamic State) in Syria is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitator's of ISIL's rise," the committee said.

The report also stressed the need for "a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance" of defeating the militants and ending the civil war that has persisted in Syria since March 2011.

On the legality of operating in Syria, the committee noted that while Iraq invited coalition airstrikes to back its beleaguered forces, Syria has only explicitly allowed Russia to fly in its airspace. Russia began its Syrian operations in late September, something the report said has only further complicated a conflict with no shortage of players and "appeared to limit the options available to others."

In 2013, British lawmakers rejected the government's proposal to launch airstrikes in Syria, and Tuesday's report recommends it not try again without answering a total of seven questions. Those include identifying what ground troops would seize and hold any territory captured from Islamic State militants.

Cameron said during a July interview with NBC's Meet The Press that Britain was committed to defeating the militants in both Iraq and Syria, but would not expand into Syria without the backing of parliament.

"I want Britain to do more," he said. "I'll always have to take my parliament with me."

In Iraq, Britain and the U.S. have been joined by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan and the Netherlands in conducting more than 5,000 airstrikes since August 2014. In Syria, the operation began a month later and has included about 2,700 airstrikes from the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The result has been limited progress in both countries, with government forces, pro-government fighters and Kurdish forces taking back some territory from the Islamic State group, but with the militants still controlling major cities and other areas in Iraq and Syria.

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