Czech PM says that Europe will not put boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria

Kurdish soldiers, photo: Boris Niehaus, CC BY-SA 3.0

Czech President Miloš Zeman is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly later on Tuesday, with a speech to focus on the threat of Islamic extremism. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is also in New York, at the invitation of US President Barack Obama. He is scheduled to take part in two summits on terrorism and Islamic State.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
One of the issues being discussed at the UN General Assembly meeting is the conflict in Syria and the threat of the terrorist group Islamic State; in his address on Monday, US President Barack Obama made clear the United States would “make no apologies for using [its] military, as part of a broader coalition to go after [the organization]”. But the strategy adopted by the US within a broader coalition so far has been the same: an emphasis on air strikes on strongholds as opposed to boots on the ground. Prior to his departure for New York to take part in conferences on terrorism, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka pinpointed the Czech Republic’s own role within the coalition and how the country had already helped.

“We contributed twice with munitions which were given to Iraq but namely to the Kurds, we are preparing a project for the training of Iraqi police officers, we will provide L-159 fighter jets to Iraq, and we are providing humanitarian aid to refugees who have escaped from Islamic State. These are all activities which rank us among the more active members of the coalition.”

The premier told Czech TV that regarding military victories the Kurds had been largely successful at pushing back Islamic State at the Turkish-Syrian border but said that more was needed from Iraqi forces themselves. More than a year on, IS still holds large swathes of both Iraq and war-torn Syria and are showing no signs of folding. Mr Sobotka, however, ruled out ground forces when it came to defeating the organization. The prime minister again:

Kurdish soldiers,  photo: Boris Niehaus,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“We have already seen military intervention in Iraq, we have been active for years in Afghanistan, we saw limited military action in Libya, and today we can see the results. Not even military intervention is a guaranteed sustainable solution. Our allies, who have armies capable of action on the ground, do not want to intervene in Iraq. A meeting of the European Council revealed that no EU country is recommending ground forces going in while there is support for air strikes, helping Iraqi or Kurd ground forces.”

Any final military defeat of Islamic State, Prime Minister Sobotka said, would have to be achieved by Arab states receiving air support, training, and aid from members of the coalition. Until IS were defeated, he also suggested, there is unlikely to be a drop in the number of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.