Saudi Arabia: Troops To Syria, Final Answer

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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A Saudi spokesman says the kingdom’s decision to send ground soldiers to Syria is “final” and irreversible.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri says Saudi Arabia is “ready” and willing to fight with U.S.-led coalition forces against Islamic State in Syria, reports Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya news Thursday.

“We are representing Saudi’s [resolution] only,” says Assiri regarding any details on ground operations.

Thursday’s announcement comes exactly one week after Saudi Arabia claimed it was willing to commit ground troops to the effort in Syria, however, Saudi officials want the full backing of the U.S.-led coalition.

“As a diplomatic ploy, I think it is a wonderful way of taking the heat off them and putting it on the United States,” said David Ottoway, a Middle East fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, during a Atlantic Council seminar Tuesday.

Saudi officials told the Guardian after the announcement the operation could involve thousands of ground troops in coordination with Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor.

When asked whether the U.S. will commit ground forces to the fight in Syria during a conference Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did not rule out the possibility and said “we do need to accelerate the campaign and we have a very clear operational picture of how to do it. Now we just need the resources and the forces to fall in behind it.”

Assiri also confirmed the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, comprised of 35 predominantly Sunni Muslim countries, will go into effect in two months. Saudi Arabia originally formed the coalition to fight terrorism in December, but aside from occasional meetings, it has remained fairly dormant.

Saudi Arabia is poised to enter a crowded operational environment in Syria. Iran has long backed its ally, Syrian president Bashar Assad, in the now five-year civil war. Late last year, Russia became directly involved, engaging in carpet bombing campaigns and coordinating ground troops with Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah to support Assad’s forces.

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