Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he thinks the fight against ISIS will eventually evolve from an air campaign to fighting on the ground.
President Obama has repeatedly stressed that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground, but Blair said commanders will need to assess that as the battle heats up.
“We have got absolutely no choice but to do this, and not just in order to contain and then destroy the onward march of ISIS, but also to send a very strong signal to the other terrorist groups operating in the region and beyond the region that we intend to take action and intend to see it through,” Blair told CNN on Sunday.
“You certainly need to fight groups like ISIS on the ground. It is possible that those people who are there locally and who have the most immediate interest in fighting ISIS can carry on the ground offensive against them,” he continued.
“But, look, this will evolve over time, I’m sure, and I’m sure that the leadership both in the U.S. and elsewhere will make sure that whatever is necessary to defeat ISIS is done. I think, by the way, no one’s talking — there’s no need to put in a kind of army of occupation. I mean, you’re not rerunning Iraq or Afghanistan.”
But, Blair stressed, “there will undoubtedly be, over time, a need to hit ISIS not simply through an aerial campaign, but also on the ground.”
“And the question will be, can those people, if they’re supported locally, can they do the job or will we have to supplement that?” he asked.
The former prime minister called the beheadings of British and American citizens “horrific, it’s evil, and it’s totally contrary to the principles of any form of religious faith.”
“How many British-born jihadists are going from Britain to fight in Syria, the estimates are several hundred have gone there. This is not, unfortunately, though, a problem just for Britain. Most European countries also have foreign fighters there,” Blair said.
“…I mean, these people aren’t going because they’re mistreated back in the U.K. They’re given the benefit of a free education, free health care. They’re given all the benefits of the freedom that comes living in a country like Britain.”
Blair said the Brits who have signed up with ISIS “have been subject to an ideology that’s come in from abroad that, unfortunately, is not just limited to Britain, but is right round the world today.”
“It’s an ideology based on a complete perversion of the proper faith of Islam, but it is powerful. It is proselytized and preached by people in mosques, in madrasas, not just in countries like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East and parts of Africa, but even back in parts of Britain,” he continued. “And one of the things that we have got to look at as a country is, how do you root this kind of teaching out and make it absolutely clear that it is completely unacceptable to teach these forms of extremism, whether in a formal school setting or an informal school setting?”