After recent military gains by Assad forces, Gulf kingdom ready to put boots on the ground in Syria’s escalating war.
Saudi Arabia is prepared to deploy ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if US-led coalition leaders agree to the offer.
Saudi’s air force has targeted ISIL with air strikes since the campaign began in Syria in September 2014, but the Gulf kingdom is now ready to provide ground forces to defeat the armed group, a military spokesman said on Thursday.
“Today, the Saudi kingdom announced its readiness to participate with ground troops with the US-led coalition against ISIL, because we now have the experience in Yemen,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told Al Jazeera.
“We know that air strikes cannot be enough and that a ground operation is needed. We need to combine both to achieve better results on the ground.”
Asseri didn’t elaborate on how many soldiers the kingdom could send.
The Saudi offer is expected to be discussed when the United States convenes a meeting of defence ministers from coalition countries fighting ISIL in Brussels next week.
Lawrence Korb, a former US assistant secretary of defence, said while Middle East countries have armed and supplied rebels during the five-year Syrian civil war, putting boots on the ground would mark major shift.
He noted it may also signal to Russia – whose air power has greatly aided President Bashar al-Assad’s recent major military gains – a need to return to Geneva peace negotiations that were postponed this week.
“The fact that you will have Saudi troops on the ground fighting with the rebels against the government is a very significant escalation, and hopefully will get the Russians to these peace talks, rather than thinking they can create a mini-Alawite state in Syria,” Korb told Al Jazeera.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter welcomed the Saudi offer to participate in ground operations in Syria.
Carter said increased activity by other countries would make it easier for the United States to accelerate its fight against ISIL.
“That kind of news is very welcome,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia is deeply involved in neighbouring Yemen’s civil war, where it is fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels both on the ground and from the air.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have long viewed Iran as a regional menace, and Riyadh and Tehran back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.