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Blair warns 'airpower will not suffice' in battle against extremists

Credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Airpower alone will not defeat extremists like the Islamist State militants currently holding large swathes of territory in northern Iraq and parts of Syria, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

The Government has supplied arms including heavy machine guns to Kurdish fighters on the front line and has also been involved in transporting materiel supplied by other countries.

But Mr Blair said in his essay: "Air power is a major component of this, to be sure, especially with the new weapons available to us. But - and this is the hard truth - air power alone will not suffice. They can be hemmed in, harried and to a degree contained by air power. But they can't be defeated by it.

"If possible, others closer to the field of battle, with a more immediate interest, can be given the weapons and the training to carry the fight; and in some, perhaps many cases, that will work. It may work in the case of Isis.

"There is real evidence that now countries in the Middle East are prepared to shoulder responsibility and I accept fully there is no appetite for ground engagement in the West.

"But we should not rule it out in the future if it is absolutely necessary.

"Provided that there is the consent of the population directly threatened and with the broadest achievable alliance...we have, on occasions, to play our part."

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Blair: West should commit troops to fight extremists

Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014 Credit: Reuters

Western powers including the United Kingdom and the US should be prepared to commit ground forces in the fight against extremists like the Islamic State, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

In an essay, Mr Blair argues that air strikes alone will not be enough to defeat IS or similar groups, and while training and equipping local fighters may work, the option of sending in combat soldiers should not be ruled out.

Mr Blair, whose premiership came to be defined by the Iraq War, acknowledged there was "no appetite" for ground engagement against IS but warned: "You cannot uproot this extremism unless you go to where it originates from and fight it."

He said the struggle against Islamist extremism should be seen as an international fight rather than a series of isolated conflicts, comparing it to the fascist and communist ideologies of the last century.

In an essay on his Tony Blair Faith Foundation's website the former premier also stressed the importance of engaging with a wider spectrum of radical Islamism, not just the violent fringe.

He said because extremists such as IS - formerly known as Isis - are "fanatical" and "prepared both to kill and to die" there could be no solution that does not involve force "with a willingness to take casualties in carrying the fight through to the end".

"This is where we get to the rub. We have to fight groups like Isis," he said.

"There can be an abundance of diplomacy, all necessary relief of humanitarian suffering, every conceivable statement of condemnation which we can muster, but unless they're accompanied by physical combat, we will mitigate the problem but not overcome it."

Alan Henning's wife pleads with IS to free him

The wife of the British hostage Alan Henning has today pleaded with his captors to free her husband. In a message to the Islamic State terror group, Barbara Henning describes him as "a peaceful, selfless man" whose purpose in taking an aid convoy to Syria was "a sheer act of compassion."

A new video obtained by ITV News shows the former taxi driver delivering aid on Christmas day, Ronke Phillips reports.

Army identifies veteran as White House intruder

The man accused of scaling a fence and getting inside the White House is a veteran who was awarded a medal for his service in Iraq and retired due to disability, the Army has said.

An armed agent is seen following the evacuation. Credit: Reuters

Authorities have identified the intruder as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, from Texas.

He served from 1997 to 2003, when he was discharged, and then again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired.

Gonzalez is expected to appear in federal court on Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Pope condemns 'perverted' IS militants

Pope Francis has stepped up his criticism of Islamic State militants, accusing the group of "perverting" religion.

He said no religious group which used violence and oppression could claim to be "the armour of God".

Pope Francis waves as he arrives in Tirana. Credit: Reuters

Let no one consider themselves the 'armour' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.

– Pope Francis
Pope Francis speaks with Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama. Credit: Reuters

Francis made his comments during a one-day visit to Albania, an impoverished Balkan country hailed by the pontiff as a model of inter-faith harmony because of good relations between its majority Muslim community and its Christian denominations.

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More than 50 new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone lockdown

More than 50 new cases found in Sierra Leone Ebola lockdown Credit: Reuters

At least 56 new cases and 92 bodies have been discovered in Sierra Leone's Ebola lock down.

There is a "very strong possibility" the national curfew will be extended beyond the scheduled finish later today, an emergency official has said.

Sierra Leone is staging a three-day lockdown aimed at stemming the worst Ebola epidemic on record.

'More than 3,000 killed' in Ukraine conflict

Thousands of Russians protested against the armed conflict in Ukraine in the first major anti-war rally in Moscow since the start of the standoff between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and Luhansk clash with the anti-war rally protesters in Moscow. Credit: Reuters

The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and the West blame on Russia's support of the separatist armed groups, has killed more than 3,000 people since April, although this month's ceasefire has brought a relative calm.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and Luhansk shout slogans before an anti-war rally in Moscow. Credit: Reuters

The organisers of "The March for peace" said over 50,000 people were expected to take the streets in Moscow alone to deliver a strong message to President Vladimir Putin: stop the war.

Witheridge family say they have brought their 'beloved Hannah' back to the UK

The family Hannah Witheridge said they have brought the body of the British holidaymaker who was brutally murdered together with a fellow tourist in Thailand back to the UK

Hannah 23, was found with severe head wounds next to David Miller, 24, on a beach on the island of Koh Tao on Monday.

We can confirm that we have now returned to the UK with our beautiful Hannah.

As a family we feel enormous relief to have Hannah back at home where she belongs.

We continue to work closely with officers to assist in the investigation and bring those responsible to justice.

Our family is broken and require time to grieve in private - as do Hannah's many friends. With the support of our fantastic family liaison officers we will make further statements as required and when we feel able.

As such, we would be very grateful for time and privacy to try and come to terms with our devastating news.

– Family statement

Her family said today that they had travelled to Bangkok on Tuesday to bring their "beloved Hannah" home and find out more about the investigation.

Iran 'ready to work with US to tackle Islamic State'

Iran is willing to work with the US to help defeat Islamic State (IS) militants, a senior Iranian government source has told Reuters.

However, Tehran would like to see more flexibility over its nuclear programme in exchange for helping Western powers tackle IS.

"Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in the fight against the ISIL (IS) terrorists ... but it is a two-way street. You give something, you take something," the source was quoted as saying.

However, a Western diplomatic source said the countries negotiating over Tehran's nuclear programme were "determined not to bring the other subjects to the nuclear negotiations table".

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