Britain sees no early demand from US for air strikes in Syria

ARBIL, Iraq (REUTERS) - British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Monday he saw no immediate demand from the United States and its Gulf allies for Britain to extend its air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters to Syria.

Britain's parliament approved air strikes against ISIS in Iraq by a decisive margin last month but is far from united about the need to extend them to Syria.

Hammond, speaking to Reuters on a visit to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, said he did not rule out Britain joining the United States in striking ISIS targets in Syria but did not expect any early requests to do so. "I don't see an imminent demand for that," he told Reuters."My understanding is that the US is satisfied that it has the firepower it needs in Syria at the moment.

"Of course none of us knows how this campaign is going to evolve but at the moment I think the arrangement now where we are focusing on targets in Iraq, and the US and Gulf partners are focusing on Syria, is working well," he said.

The United States has been carrying out strikes in Iraq since early August, and began bombing ISIS positions in Syria last month, along with five Arab allies.

Hammond said there would have to be a clear military task that could not be met by existing coalition forces engaged in Syria before Britain might consider joining them.

The air strikes halted ISIS advances in northern Iraq, but have not prevented the group gaining territory elsewhere, including along the frontier between Syria and Turkey, where it is fighting Kurds for control of the town of Kobane.

Following a meeting with the region's president Masoud Barzani, Hammond told journalists at a news conference that the situation in Kobane was of "great concern", but dampened hopes of any speedy international effort to protect the town from ISIS.

"We've always been clear that the coalition and the support it can provide is a long-term strategic project," he said. "It is not the case that we can mobilise the resources that people in Kobane are calling for immediately to respond to this current crisis."

Last year, the British parliament voted against carrying out air strikes against Syria for its lack of progress in eliminating chemical weapons and the opposition Labour Party has said any such action now would need a UN resolution on Syria.

Six Tornado jets, normally based at RAF Marham in England and based on Cyprus since August, have carried out several strikes on Iraq since in the last two months.

British soldiers are in Iraq training Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Britain has supplied machine guns, but the Kurds say they need heavier weapons such as tanks and attack helicopters to counter ISIS, which plundered Iraqi arms depots after seizing control of the northern city of Mosul in June.

Asked about heavier weapons, Hammond said: "We've got to understand the need and then we've got to work together as a coalition to decide what we think is appropriate for us to supply, how best it can be supplied and how best to deliver it."

In the news conference, Hammond once again ruled out sending British forces into combat in Iraq.