After 10-hour debate, UK Parliament votes in favor of bombing ISIS in Syria

Posted at 5:51 PM, Dec 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-02 17:51:32-05

[Breaking news alert, posted at 5:39 p.m. ET Wednesday]

After a debate that lasted more than 10 hours, British lawmakers voted late Wednesday in favor of airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria. The votes were 397 in favor and 223 against.

[Previous story, posted at 12:18 p.m. ET Wednesday]

After the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, France asked its allies to bump up their military offensive against ISIS. Now Britain and Germany will decide whether they will.

The parliaments of both countries are debating their leaders’ requests for greater military commitment against the terror group. And the measures are expected to be approved.

The UK proposal would add British warplanes to the airstrike campaign against ISIS inside Syria. Currently, the UK is carrying out airstrikes only in Iraq.

The German plan would activate 1,200 troops in anti-ISIS efforts, but in a support role, not direct combat.

British airstrikes

British lawmakers began debating late Wednesday morning on whether to expand UK airstrikes to include ISIS strongholds in Syria. The discussion is expected to last some 10½ hours.

Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off the debate by saying that ISIS is a threat to the British people, proved in part through the beheadings of UK hostages in the Middle East and other atrocities.

“This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism. It’s about how best we do that,” Cameron said.

He said the UK faces “‘a fundamental threat to our security” and posed the question, “Do we work with our allies to degrade and destruct this threat … or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”

Britain is already part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS from the air but has until now limited strikes to targets in Iraq.

“This is the right thing to do to keep Britain safe, to deal with this evil organization and as part of a process to bring peace and stability to Syria,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told CNN.

He said the military campaign will have two stages: airstrikes to degrade ISIS capabilities and an eventual ground assault.

The airstrikes can begin “pretty much straight away” after the vote passes, he said.

Cameron, who visited French President Francois Hollande after the attacks that killed 130 people, has pushed for the expansion.

Britain needs “to take action now, to help protect us against the terrorism seen on the streets of Paris and elsewhere,” the British leader said.

Cameron, a Conservative, faces some opposition from the Labour Party, which has said that there is a lack of a coherent plan to fight ISIS. But dozens of its members support the move and will not vote en bloc as a party against it.

In his rebuttal to Cameron, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the Syria decision “one with potentially far-reaching consequences for us all, here in Britain, people in Syria and those in Middle East.”

He said that “the doubts and unanswered questions on both sides of the House have only grown and multiplied.”

Corbyn called for Cameron to explain “how British bombing in Syria will contribute to a comprehensive, negotiated, political settlement of the Syrian war.”

Britain’s Parliament voted in 2013 against UK military action in Syria. Lawmakers in the House of Commons rebuffed Cameron’s call for a strong response to allegations the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the civil war. Parliamentary authorization has only been given for UK military action in neighboring Iraq as part of the international coalition against ISIS.

The current measure before Parliament is expected to be approved.

German reconnaissance

German legislators on Wednesday were also debating on an expanded commitment, deploying high-tech intelligence jets over Syria and northern Iraq to help other countries’ forces pinpoint targets.

The German Cabinet, representing a country known for its reluctance since World War II to engage in military adventures abroad, approved the military support mission against ISIS in Syria this week. Lawmakers must approve it, too, before it takes effect.

The measure reportedly has overwhelming political support, with only two smaller parties objecting. The vote is widely seen as a rubber stamping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent commitment to France’s Hollande.

In addition to sending troops and equipment in a support capacity against ISIS in Syria, Germany would also strengthen its training mission in northern Iraq, according to German public media news site Deutsche Welle.

Germany has not committed to airstrikes, and its post-World War II constitution hinders it in participating in battle on foreign soil.

U.S. ‘special operators’

The United States has already been pummeling the extremist group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the United States will send in a special targeting force to carry out raids against ISIS in Iraq.

“In full coordination with the government of Iraq, we’re deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on ISIL,” Carter said before the House Armed Services Committee, using another name for ISIS.

“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.”

The force is in addition to the “less than 50” Special Operations Forces that Obama authorized in October to aid in the fight against ISIS in Syria.