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ISIS fight needs boots on the ground, says former British military chief

October 8th, 2014
02:43 PM ET

WEB EXTRA: Richards says the world cannot take its foot off the pedal in Afghanistan.

By Mick Krever, CNN

The former head of the British military, General David Richards, said on Wednesday that the international fight against ISIS needed boots on the ground.

"I think you’ve got to make sure that your aerial campaign is accurately delivered, and that probably means some special forces up front," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

Experienced Western armies must play some role in the war, he said, if there is hope for victory.

“I’m not saying they have to be on the frontline, but they have to be deeply involved in the logistics, which is what often discriminates proper armies from amateur armies.”

An air campaign alone, he said, "cannot possibly" succeed.

“The rules of war are well written on this, and well established.”

“Wars aren’t ever going to be won from the air alone. They’re a vital part of success, but don’t expect a guy in an aeroplane to be able to seize and hold terrain, which ultimately this is – we’ve got to do.”

“I’ve been saying it, others have said it – you know, my good friend General Marty Dempsey, as good as said it the other day.”

The United States and international partners are now at war with ISIS, but U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear that though he is willing to go after the extremist group in Syria, there will be no American boots on the ground.

“There’s a big difference between containing a problem on the defensive, and then doing what our political leaders have talked about, which is attacking, defeating, ultimately some say destroying. I think that’s a moot point,” Richards said.

Much international focus is now on Turkey, which is just across the border from a Syrian city, Kobani, that ISIS is battling to control.

The Turks, he said, are “the only people actually, realistically, who could stop [Kobani] from falling.”

But in an interview with Amanpour earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made clear that the United States must go after Bashar al-Assad, not just ISIS, and must establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria if Turkey is to join the fight.

“I would question whether you should signal your intent quite so clearly,” Richards said. “What’s happened to good old fashioned guile, if that is what he wants to do?”

“My own view right now is … the Turks would be complicating the military problem considerably if they chose to combine this offensive – which is what we’re talking about, which would prevent places like Kobani from falling – with an attack on President Assad’s forces.”

“My own instinct – and I accept that … I may not be politically correct on this – is that right now you at least want him not to cause you a problem.”

“And I would myself, I were still in my old job recommending things to the prime minister, I would say let – let’s play that long.”

Filed under:  Afghanistan • Christiane Amanpour • Iraq • Latest Episode • Syria • Turkey
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