Theresa May ‘almost sent 1,000 troops to Syria last year’
The then prime minister reportedly discussed joint deployment with France after Donald Trump withdrew
Theresa May secretly considered sending up to 1,000 British troops into Syria after Donald Trump announced an abrupt withdrawal of US soldiers from the war-torn country last year, it has been claimed.
The Telegraph exclusively reports that May, prime minister at the time, feared the US president’s “shock announcement” - which came before Islamic State’s (Isis) so-called caliphate was eradicated - would “leave jihadists who still posed a threat to the UK free to plot more atrocities”.
According to the newspaper, she discussed a plan in which London and Paris would send a like-for-like replacement of America’s 2,000 troops on the ground at the time, splitting the burden 50-50.
Although May eventually decided against the move, one source told the Telegraph that it was “properly thought about” during a “frantic few days” before Christmas 2018.
May spent several days “huddled with security and defence figures” to discuss whether Britain and France - America’s two major partners in the coalition – could send troops to Syria, says the newspaper.
The discussions started after the US president suddenly announced on Twitter on 19 December that he would be pulling all US troops out of Syria.
“After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!” he wrote.
In an accompanying video, the US president said: “It’s time for our troops to come back home.”
Trump declared victory, but the Islamic State caliphate had not yet been defeated, with thousands of fighters still holding out in eastern Syria.
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The Telegraph says Gavin Williamson, then defence secretary, was included in the talks and is believed to have supported the plan, but Ben Wallace, then security minister, and Alistair Burt, then Middle East minister, were apparently not included in the discussions.
The plan was reportedly not taken further for two reasons. First, there were doubts over whether America would provide the air cover and logistical support required.
Secondly, the extent of the proposed deployment meant May would have had to obtain the approval of Parliament and there were suspicions that MPs would not back the move, especially as the PM lacked a strong majority in the House of Commons.