West must fight Syria's Assad if it wants to topple him: UK general

LONDON Thu Jul 18, 2013 7:32am EDT

1 of 2. Free Syrian Army fighters take positions during what they say is an offensive against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Idlib July 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Abdalghne Karoof

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LONDON (Reuters) - The outgoing head of the British Army said on Thursday the West would need to fight a war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if it wanted to have a "material impact" on his calculations.

In interviews to two British newspapers, General David Richards said there were arguments for and against such a course of action and the British government was still debating its options on Syria.

But if a political decision was made to try to change the tide of the conflict to put pressure on the Syrian government, which has notched up military gains in recent months, Britain would need to intervene in the same way as it did in Libya, he said.

"If you wanted to have the material impact on the Syrian regime's calculations that some people seek, a no-fly zone per se is insufficient," Richards told The Daily Telegraph.

"You have to be able, as we did successfully in Libya, to hit ground targets. If you want to have the material effect that people seek you have to be able to hit ground targets and so you would be going to war if that is what you want to do."

The West would need to destroy the Syrian government's air defenses as well as its tanks and armored personnel carriers, he added.

"That is rightly a huge and important decision. There are many arguments for doing so but there are many arguments for not doing so too."

Richards separately told The Sun newspaper that Britain would have to act if it saw chemical weapons proliferation as a result of the Syrian conflict.

"We have contingency plans for everything," he said.

Britain has been in the forefront of international opposition to President Bashar al-Assad and has frequently called on him to step down. Prime Minister David Cameron was also instrumental in rallying foreign military support for the Libyan rebels who eventually toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Cameron's government says it has taken no decision to arm the Syrian rebels and has so far confined itself to supplying the moderate opposition with non-lethal aid such as vehicles and body armor.

More than 90,000 people have been killed in the conflict, now in its third year.

(Reporting By Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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