Former UK general warns Western troops could trigger Syria 'collapse'

Professor Sir Paul Newton A sudden Syrian state collapse could lead to a period of Islamic insurgency, Professore Sir Paul Newton has warned.

Sending Western troops into Syria too soon could create a power vacuum and a "sudden, uncontrolled state collapse", a retired British general has warned.

Prof Sir Paul Newton said weapons of mass destruction could fall into the wrong hands if the state disintegrated.

His warning comes in a report co-authored with three other Exeter University academics.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he would not "rule out any option to save lives" in Syria.

Sir Paul, a former lieutenant general, was part of a strategic military planning team and helped conduct operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone during 38 years in the Army..

The report - written along with Professor Gareth Stansfield, Dr Andrew Rathmell and Professor Jonathan Githens-Mazer - concludes that premature military action by the West could lead to the increased destabilisation of the already volatile situation in Syria.

'Catastrophic'

"Although it may appear attractive in the short-term, the one scenario that must be avoided is sudden, uncontrolled state collapse," Sir Paul insisted.

He added: "This may seem like a paradox given the pressing need to end humanitarian suffering and the risk of the conflict spreading. However, it could be catastrophic.

"If unmanaged disintegration of the Syrian state were to occur, access to weapons of mass destruction would be uncontrolled," he warned.

The 56-year-old, now a director at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, believes the recruitment of members of President Assad's regime into the government which replaces it could be vital in avoiding the kind of insurgency activity which dogged Iraq after the 2003 conflict.

'Insurgent threat'

It is feared any power vacuum created by a premature military intervention could be filled by al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups.

"Without a clear and pre-emptive assurance of amnesty or a similar guarantee for the vast majority of the regime's security apparatus there would also be the prospect of a bitter and protracted insurgent threat in Syria.

"The people with 'blood on their hands' are quite capable of setting up their own 10-year insurgency if they are not included," Sir Paul added.

He said the British government should seek to drive a wedge between the top of President Assad's regime and the bulk of its security services.

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