Ulster military expert Colonel Tim Collins last night said the UK should not get involved in the bloodbath now erupting in Syria.
In a fiery response to the growing possibility of intervention in the country, Col Collins opposed moves towards a western military response to the apparent chemical massacre of civilians.
Colonel Collins, originally from Northern Ireland, is best known for his role in the invasion of Iraq, when he gave a stirring address to troops ahead of the deployment.
And when it comes to Syria, he told The News Letter the UK has “no choice but to stay out”.
As Parliament was recalled to discuss the crisis, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said there was “no appetite” for troop deployment or civilians being put at risk, while Alliance MP Naomi Long issued a statement saying while she is “revulsed” by recent acts in Syria: “I remain unconvinced that military intervention is the right course of action.”
The US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said America had “moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take”, while Prime Minister Cameron said Parliament was the “right place to set out all of the arguments”.
But Col Collins, who now commentates on security matters and works for private military intelligence, is steadfastly against plunging deeper into the conflict.
He said in this case, the danger of supporting anti-Assad forces in Syria was that the country could end up in the hands of factions even worse than the government’s own.
“Bottom line,” he said, “is that to be drawn into this conflict would be a huge mistake.
“Anything the Assad regime do the Salifists (an extremist religious sect) and Al Qaeda would do worse.
“The UK and US have no idea how to support the secular resistance. The debacle in Libya demonstrated this.”
While the UK “ought to be on the side of the opposition”, he said ultimately “we have no choice but to stay out and let events take their natural course.”
He branded Syria a “deeply complex problem”, and said the nation had effectively become “the battlefield of a new cold war” - noting that various factions across the Middle East have stakes in the outcome of the bloodshed.
Yesterday David Cameron said that any Western intervention which does take place in Syria would not be about the conflict itself but preventing the use of chemical weapons by any regime, and he stressed that no decisions about British involvement had been made.
But while the current Prime Minister is still weighing the options, past leader Tony Blair had come out strongly in favour of intervention.
Mr Blair had written in a newspaper article on Tuesday that “people wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder.”
Col Collins was asked by The News Letter for his view on this. His response was blunt.
“First and foremost I would reject the view of Tony Blair as a man whose judgement is so flawed that you would not be far wrong doing exactly the opposite of what he suggests,” he said.
Col Collins, whose career had seen him deployed in his own native Northern Ireland with the Royal Irish Regiment, gained international renown for his pre-invasion speech ahead of the Iraq war.
In it he warned his troops that they were about to enter a land “steeped in history” and should “tread lightly”; while fighting fiercely, they should remember to treat Iraqis with dignity.
Actor Kenneth Branagh even reprised the speech on screen some years later in the show “10 Days to War”.
Col Collins later condemned the Iraq war as “arrogant”, writing in the Mirror only this year that “the religiously and ethnically rich land that had existed for thousands of years before our arrogant invasion is gone and will never return – and we can’t blame Saddam for that, as we did it all ourselves.”
He left the military in 2004, and went on to found intelligence firm New Century.