Striking ISIS is futile, says top British general

General Lord Richards said a military operation similar to the campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein is necessary

Published: Updated:

The former head of the United Kingdom military warned that air strikes alone will not defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and that western governments are wrong to rule out deployment of ground troops, the Sunday Times reported.

A military operation similar to the campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 is necessary to wipe out the extremist group, General Lord Richards, who stepped down as chief of the defense staff last year, said.

“The only way to defeat [ISIS] is to take back land they are occupying which means a conventional military operation,” he told British weekly.

Richards criticized U.S.-led air strikes, explaining that “ultimately you need a land army to achieve the objectives we’ve set ourselves — all air will do is destroy elements of Isis, it won’t achieve our strategic goal.”

While he said he understands that there is “political resistance” to sending boots on the ground he maintained that the “the only way to do it effectively is to use western armies.”

Richards’ comments come after the Royal Air Force (RAF) carried out the first British combat mission in Iraq since a majority vote in parliament on Friday authorized air strikes against ISIS targets.

However, after Two RAF Tornado warplanes carried out a seven-hour reconnaissance over northern Iraq on Saturday, no targets were identified.

This failure to identify targets may be attributed to ISIS’ newly-applied tactics to minimize its exposure to aerial attacks, the Sunday Times reported.

The British weekly also reports that in effort to avoid air strikes, the militant group has raised its black and white banner in residential areas to trick the anti-ISIS coalition to strike civilians.

Ongoing air strikes

In related news, the U.S.-led coalition destroyed three makeshift oil refineries in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria early on Sunday as it pressed efforts to deny ISIS militants funding, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The U.S.-led coalition also struck late Sunday the entrance to the country's main gas plant, in an apparent warning to ISIS militants to abandon the premises under their control, a monitor said, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The international coalition has for the first time struck the entrance and prayer area of the Coneco gas plant. It is under [ISIS] control, and is the largest in Syria,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The observatory reported that at least seven civilians were killed by U.S. missiles striking targets in northwestern Syria.

Amid reports of civilian deaths Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Thursday that the American military has “no credible reporting from operations sources” of civilians killed.

The coalition strikes hit close by the Turkish frontier, near the town of Tal Abyad just across the border fence from the Turkish town of Akcakale, the monitoring group said.

“At least three makeshift refineries under ISIS control in the Tal Abyad region were destroyed overnight,” the Observatory was quoted by Agence-France Presse as saying.

The shelling comes after at least a dozen strikes on Thursday night on the refinery infrastructure that the militants have developed in the swathe of territory they control in eastern Syria, which includes many of the country’s main oil fields.

“IS (ISIS) had been refining crude and selling it to Turkish buyers,” said the Britain-based watchdog, which has a broad network of sources inside Syria.

Before the launch of U.S.-led air strikes on ISIS in Syria last Tuesday analysts say the group was earning as much as $3 million a day from oil revenues.

Output from ISIS-controlled fields stood at 80,000 barrels per day, far exceeding the 17,000 barrels per day the Syrian oil ministry said it was pumping.

The strikes around Tal Abyad came after Saturday raids on the mainly Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, also very close to the Turkish border.

The town, known as Kobane in Kurdish, has been under attack by ISIS for more than a week, sparking an exodus of at least 160,000 refugees into Turkey.

The coalition also kept up its raids on the militant heartland province of Raqa early Sunday as it pressed what Washington says are “near continuous” strikes.

The raids destroyed a plastics factory outside Raqa city, regarded as an ISIS stronghold, killing one civilian, the Observatory said.