Despite the ceasefire, which is still just about holding after over a month, thousands are starving in besieged towns and villages across Syria.
The World Food Programme recently dropped 20 tonnes of aid into Deir Ezzor, a town besieged by ISIL for many months, but it appears that Assad is also preventing UN aid convoys reaching many rebel areas. This is but an air drop in the ocean of what could be achieved if the Coalition and Britain bought into the problem. Jo Cox MP, and co-chair of the Syrian APPG asked in the British Parliament this week if air drops would be considered to feed these desperate people? I’m not sure I understood the answer to this yes/no question which seemed to be – Perhaps? Maybe?
The RAF are experts in high altitude air drops with an accuracy down to 10’s of metres, ideal for dropping aid into besieged and flattened towns and villages. These are hard won skills, honed on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq where so many British soldiers gave their lives; what better epitaph to them to save the starving and wretched in Syria?
Working out of Cyprus, the Coalition could mount a massive humanitarian aid air drop programme which might make the difference between success and failure of the current peace process. If the Chilcott report is ever published, hopefully it will suggest that one of the shortfalls of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that there was no co-ordinated humanitarian plan to flood aid into areas devastated by the Saddam Hussein era and to the disenfranchised Sunnis. This failure to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people goes a long way to explaining the desperate situation today in Iraq which also fuelled the rise of ISIL. A C17 can deliver 60 tonnes or so of aid and a C130 around 20 tonnes in a single drop; with most of Syrian besieged areas within 2 hours flying of Cyprus, a few aircraft could deliver 100’s of tonnes of aid per day – and this would be the ‘game changer’.
In practical terms, the Town and District Councils in Syria have already reached out to NGOs like UOSSM who I work with, to co-ordinate delivery of this aid once it reaches the ground to ensure it gets to the right people especially those most needy. The key message in this area for me is
that Putin controls the skies over Syria and with his assent these aircraft could fly unhindered around Syrian air space – above small arms attack from ISIL and other Jihadist groups.
It may seem strange for an ex-soldier to trumpet the humanitarian campaign as the key to success in Syria and Iraq, hosever it is soldiers who win battles but comprehensive strategy, military, diplomatic and humanitarian which wins peace. Having grasped a great victory this year by forcing ISIL out of Ramadi, we could be facing defeat again by not providing basics such as food and water to the people there further the argument that they have a better future without ISIL.
I will shortly meet with the exceptionally brave doctors of UOSSM who risk their lives every day in places like Aleppo, Ghouta and Idlib serving those left in Syria, and I’ll find it extremely difficult to explain to them why we are not dropping aid on their hospitals now that Assad and Putin have stopped dropping bombs?
I’m told by MPs that the Government will consider air drops as a last resort…I think we’re there, lets act before we lose this chance. A tonne of food in Aleppo or Ramadi will be far more effective than another tonne of ammunition to win the hearts and minds of the peoples of Syria and Iraq who will, ultimately, determine the future stability or not of this region.
Hamish de Bretton Gordon is a former commander of NATO’s CBRN Regiment and now works with Syrian humanitarian NGOs.
The article is adapted from the original posted at the Daily Telegraph.
Subsequent to this, Hamish and a group of Syrian doctors wrote the following open letter to the British Minister, David Cameron –
‘The International medical charity UOSSM who run 32 hospitals and clinics in Syria met on the Syrian border last weekend together with many doctors from inside Syria. The chairman Dr Ghanem Tayara, a Birmingham GP led the conference which was also attended by UOSSM advisors, the leading war surgeon Dr David Knott OBE and security and chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE. All 3 along with leading Syrian doctors from around the globe wrote an open letter to David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on this week, asking him to direct the RAF to air drop aid to the 17 besieged towns and over 1 million starving people in Syria. The RAF are the world’s experts in high altitude precision air drops, with hard won skills from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Flying out of Cyprus the RAF’s C 17’s and C130’s could drop hundreds of tonnes of aid everyday all across Syria. The ceasefire is barely holding and many are staying with it in the hope of food and other aid. This has failed to materialise through Assad’s continued belligerence and unless we get meaningful amounts of aid to the starving, very soon, the ceasefire is in danger of completely failing.’