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Centcom challenges report it doesn’t trust Britain in Syria planning

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Published:   |   Updated: September 3, 2013 at 10:30 AM

TAMPA — A Centcom spokesman in Tampa took issue with a media report from Britain saying the role of that nation’s military representatives at U.S. Central Command has been downgraded because Prime Minister David Cameron refused to join in military action against Syria.

The report “mischaracterized” the sitation, according to Lt. Col Christopher Belcher, a spokesman with Tampa-based Centcom, which oversees U.S. military operations in most of the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

“The British are still a valuable member of the team,” Belcher said.

Belcher was reacting to questions from the Tribune about a story published in the Times of London on Monday.

The report, citing unnamed military sources, reads: “British military chiefs are being ejected from US meetings about Syria in the first direct consequence of David Cameron’s refusal to join military action.

“The role of senior British officers based at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, has been downgraded because they cannot be trusted with high-level intelligence about a conflict with which they are no longer involved.

The paper said that about 30 British personnel have been working alongside the Americans and French at Centcom headquarters, “fine-tuning a list of targets and orchestrating military assets as part of war planning under way for weeks.”

Centcom spokesman Belcher would not comment about what meetings the British military is still able to attend.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss specifics of any meetings,” Belcher said.

The British Ministry of Defense is feeling “a degree of dismay” over the issue, Patrick Mercer, a member of Parliament and former Shadow Minister of Homeland Security told the Tribune this morning.

“There have been direct conversations by one of the deputy chiefs of defense staff with his American equivalent,” Mercer said.

Mercer, who served in the British army, had no direct knowledge about Britain’s status in Centcom preparations.

After the British Parliament voted against an attack last week, Cameron opted against joining any military effort to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which the U.S. blames for using chemical weapons on its own people.

In a speech on Saturday, President Barack Obama blamed Assad for an attack that killed more than 1,000 people and called on Congress to support his push for a use of force there. Obama said U.S. military forces are currently in position to strike.

Cameron’s decision not to act was seen as a blow to Obama’s efforts to gain international support.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

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