With huge relief, but some trepidation, those of us who had been lobbying for air drops to feed the starving in Syria were delighted that the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to such an operation, to be conducted by the World Food Programme, from 01 Jun 16.
The deal was, we proudly understand, was brokered by the UK Foreign Secretary. But we are now 5 months on and nothing has happened. Alison McGovern MP, co-chair of the Syrian APPG with Andrew Mitchell MP (ex Royal Tank Regiment), tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons this week asking the Government to, as a last hope measure, begin air drops into Aleppo to try and save the 250,000 trapped and starving civilians.
The manifest dreadfulness of the Syrian crisis requires the International Community to look at options to invest in Syria. These options must not include ones which contribute to the drain of its brightest and best to advanced countries around the world hence condemning Syria to terminal and irreversible decline.
Air drop are a long way from perfect, and fraught with challenges, but do at least recognise that re-homing more than 5 million refugees is not a long term option for Syria. If nothing is demonstratively done to reverse the outflow from Syria, this could grow by another 7 million, who are currently displaced inside the country. We cannot afford to wait another 50 days for President Trump, after his inauguration, to come galloping over the hill to deal with Putin as he has suggested and as seems possible.
The RAF are well versed in the skill of air drops and like many who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was gratefully on the receiving end of these a number of times. Operating out of the UK military bases in Cyprus, a mere 30 minute flight to Aleppo, we could drop meaningful amounts of aid into Eastern Aleppo in very short order. There is of course huge concern that RAF jets delivering aid would be shot down by Russian and Syrian jets or the S300 anti-aircraft system. This would be a crime of an apocalyptic proportions and Britain, France and the US must spell this out to Russian in very clear unambiguous terms. These jets would deliver food and medicine not arms and the UK could protect them with all assets at our disposal including the threat of punitive precision strikes against S300 batteries and attacking aircraft. Great Britain, with the best air-force on the planet, must be able to do this. We are now at the end of the road for Aleppo and I’m confident that the ‘Few’ can pull this off. I would happily fly with them.
Hamish De Bretton-Gordon OBE is a former commander of NATO’s CBRN regiment. He now works with agencies helping Syrian refugees.