Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, appeared in front of a House of Commons Select Committee today where he was forced to admit that the UK government’s widely touted estimate of “70,000 moderate” fighters in Syria actually includes Islamists and “hardline Islamists”.
Speaking to Dr. Julian Lewis in the committee today, Mr. Cameron was pressed on the Joint Intelligence Committee report which he announced as he was making the case for British military intervention in Syria.
In November of last year, Mr. Cameron asserted: “Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”
He has today admitted that his claim was false, effectively acknowledging that his speech on December 2nd in the House of Commons may have misled the House – a serious offence under parliamentary rules.
At the time he said: “Last week I told the House that we believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters… who do not belong to extremist groups… and with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Daesh”.
But today he has admitted: “…yes, some of the opposition forces are Islamist, some of them are relatively hardline Islamist, and some of them are more what we would describe as more secular democrats. But I would make the point there are groups like Al-Nusra Front… who we wouldn’t work with, who we condemn. If you are arguing there aren’t enough and we need to build them up, yes, I agree. But we’ve got to start somewhere…
He added: “All I can say is… We had an [National Security Council] discussion, the JIC, Joint Intelligence Committee, produced the figure. I questioned and probed on the figure, they said they bought 70,000 was the best estimate of non-extremist opposition fighters. The Americans have said that is within their estimates, to be absolutely transparent with you, the Americans said it was towards the top end of their estimates”.
Intelligence and defence figures immediately poured scorn on Mr. Cameron’s claims in December of last year, with some calling the JIC report Mr. Cameron’s “dodgy dossier” – setting out a case for war on a false premise.
At the time, Dr. Julian Lewis, the head of the Defence Select Committee said: “Instead of having dodgy dossiers, we now have bogus battalions of moderate fighters”.
Labour MP Louise Haigh said on Twitter in December: “National Security Adviser confirms number of moderates on ground in Syria is 40,000 rest are much more radical Islamists.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage wrote for Breitbart London on November 27th: “Now we’re told that an estimated 70,000 people in the Free Syrian Army are the good guys. And they are the people that we’re now helping. So tell me Mr Cameron, are we now for Assad or against Assad? Can you prove to me that these 70,000 really are the good guys? Or are we once again to enter into military action without any really clear long term strategic goals?