The fight is not over, but Daesh no longer has land to call their own

Gavin Williamson
Syrian Democratic Forces raising their flag atop a building in the Islamic State group's last bastion in the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz after defeating the jihadist group. March 23, 2019. - AFP

On Saturday we marked a turning point in our fight against the Daesh fanatics with the liberation of the last vestiges of land held under their brutal rule.

At one point these barbaric extremists controlled territory roughly the size of the United Kingdom and had advanced to within a few miles of the gates of Baghdad. But in the last few days they have been rooted out of their last enclave along the Euphrates and their so-called caliphate destroyed.

I pay tribute to all our Armed Forces and allies who have helped fight Daesh. They have hunted down this nihilistic death-cult night and day. Our RAF Tornados, Typhoons, and Reaper have struck almost 2,000 times – eliminating terrorists, overwhelming their headquarters and cutting off their supplies. It is fitting that Tornado is ending its illustrious career with this achievement.

There is the work of others which should not go unrecognised. The crews who tirelessly flew our Reaper drones. Last month I announced they will now receive the Operation Shader medal, without clasp. This is the first time our Reaper crews have received such recognition.

Our troops on the ground have – as part of the Coalition – also helped train some 90,000 Iraqis in everything from bridge-building to defusing bombs.

We also pay tribute to the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces who sustained heavy casualties to liberate 7.7 million people from Daesh’s tyranny.

Those British nationals who turned their back on our country to fight for Daesh made a fatal mistake. They should expect to bear the full force of the law for their actions in the country where they have committed crimes.

So today we mark a major milestone but we also count the cost. Mercifully, there have been very few deaths of British and allied personnel and hostages. But we feel each one of those very keenly. Our sympathies go to their families and friends for their loss. They did not die in vain. Their bravery is to be commended for ensuring the UK’s national security by tackling this threat. No-one will ever forget the damage and destruction wrought by Daesh’s barbarism. Their frenzy of violence has left behind a trail of destruction: innocents sold into slavery, thousands dead, millions displaced and some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures sacked. It was imperative that we acted.

But we cannot say this fight is over. The terrorists are as much an evil ideology as a geographical entity. We’ve always known that cutting off one head of the snake could lead to others springing up elsewhere. We’re painfully aware of the threat these extremists still pose whether to Iraq, the wider region or to our own shores.

That’s why the next phase of our campaign is well underway. The UK is helping the Iraqis rebuild their homeland so they can remain free from Daesh. It is continuing to provide vital humanitarian aid in Syria where we have already committed more than £2.7 billion. And it is continuing to champion a political settlement which, ultimately, will be the only way to achieve lasting peace in the region

But, above all, it means continuing to do everything in our power, alongside the Global Coalition against Daesh, to check the spread of insurgency and draw the sting from its poisonous ideology.

As I said to RUSI recently, a Global Britain must to be ready to intervene, using all the hard power at our disposal to defend the international rules-based system.

And we are well placed to do that. Our Armed Forces will remain deployed in the region, to provide continuing assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi security forces against any attempt by Daesh to re-establish an active presence.  We have world-class F35 stealth fighters, we have an aircraft carrier that is the most powerful surface vessel ever to leave our shores and new sophisticated equipment coming into play.

Not only will we fight this evil ideology on land but in the cyber sphere where the UK heads the Global Coalition Communications Cell, working to reduce the impact of Daesh’s ability to use propaganda to recruit, inspire and incite supporters. 

None of this will be easy. Daesh is the evil of our generation and we must be prepared to stay the course. In the past five years, our Armed Forces, alongside our allies have turned the tide. Daesh no longer has land to call their own.

But we will not rest until the danger they pose to our people is ended once and for all.