Saudi Arabia ready to commit ground troops to Islamic State fight in Syria

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Feb. 5, 2016 at 8:05 AM
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia announced its willingness to send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State, a military spokesman said.

A U.S.-led coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia, has been involved in airstrikes against IS in Syria since 2014, but Thursday's announcement is the first indication the Saudis are prepared to commit ground troops, if the coalition requests them.

"The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria. If there was a consensus from the leadership of the coalition, the kingdom is willing to participate in these efforts because we believe that aerial operations are not the ideal solution and there must be a twin mix of aerial and ground operations," Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri told the Dubai-based {link:Al Arabiya news channel. : "" target="_blank"}

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter reacted Thursday by saying "That kind of news is very welcome."

Saudi Arabia is a member of a separate Arab coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels, with airstrikes and ground troops, in Yemen, and Asiri told the Al Jazeera news network the Saudi military's "experience in Yemen" prompted the offer to commit troops in Syria. Iran is also a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose army has been engaged in a five-year war against a variety of opposition groups, and Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

Asiri did not indicate how many troops Saudi Arabia could commit to fighting IS in Syria, but noted to Al Jazeera, "We know that airstrikes cannot be enough and that a ground operation is needed. We need to combine both to achieve better results on the ground."

The offer came after an eventful day in which $10 billion in humanitarian aid was pledged to Syria, peace talks were suspended and Russia accused Turkey of preparing to invade Syria.

The Saudi offer is expected to be a topic at a conference of defense ministers from coalition countries engaged in Syria in Brussels next week.

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