Saudi Arabia Ready to Send Forces to Syria if Coalition Decides

RABAT (Reuters) —
Morocco's Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar (L) speaks with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in Rabat, February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar (L.) speaks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in Rabat, Wednesday. (Reuters/Youssef Boudlal)

Saudi Arabia would be willing to commit special forces to Syria should the international coalition decide to deploy ground troops against the Islamic State terror group, the country’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

It was the Saudi minister’s second reference to sending special forces since he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday for talks on the war in Syria and the crisis in Yemen.

“We will discuss details with experts from the countries involved to decide on the nature of the participation,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters during a visit to Morocco. He has declined to give any specific numbers.

President Barack Obama, anxious to avoid being sucked into another Middle East conflict after the long and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been deeply reluctant to commit U.S. ground forces in Syria.

But four months of Russian air strikes in Syria – which Moscow says are targeting Islamic State – have helped President Bashar al-Assad claw back territory from rebel fighters, alarming Gulf Arab states who back the insurgents.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the U.S.-led coalition that has been fighting Islamic State in Syria since 2014.

The government says it has carried out more than 190 aerial missions there, although it has focused its military efforts over the last year on the conflict in Yemen, where it is leading a coalition of mainly Gulf Arab forces battling Houthi terrorists who control Sanaa.

Last week, an adviser to the Saudi defense minister said the kingdom was ready to participate in any ground operation in Syria, but did not specify the possibility of sending special forces on the ground.

Saudi Arabia in December also announced the formation of a 34-nation Islamic military coalition which it said would combat terrorism.

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