Monday, 16 September 2019 12:28 GMT

Riyadh offers berets for Syria as US prods anti-IS coalition

(MENAFN - Arab Times) Saudi Arabia would be willing to commit special forces to Syria should the international coalition decide to deploy ground troops against Islamic State, the country's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

It was the Saudi minister's second reference to sending special forces since he met US 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 US 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 US-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 fighters who control Sanaa. Last week, an adviser to the Saudi defence 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.

The United States said on Tuesday it hoped allies demonstrate a willingness to ramp up their contributions to the fight against Islamic State and to deterring Russia in eastern Europe during highlevel defense talks in Brussels this week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he plans to outline America's plan to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State to defense chiefs from more than two dozen allies at talks on Thursday. The United States has long-standing concerns that many allies are not contributing nearly enough to combat the jihadist group that has spread beyond its self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. "I don't think anybody's satisfied with the pace of the (campaign), that's why we're all looking to accelerate it. Certainly the president isn't (satisfied),"

Carter told reporters traveling with him. Washington has signaled the need for military and police trainers as well as contributions of special operations forces, including from Sunni Muslim Arab allies now expressing a new willingness to contribute. "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," he said, noting plans to capture Islamic State strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

A top US intelligence official told Congress on Tuesday that an Iraqi-led operation to retake Mosul is unlikely to take place this year. The US strategy in Syria is likely to come under intense scrutiny after four months of Russian air strikes have tipped momentum toward President Bashar al- Assad in Syria's five-year-old civil war. Defense chiefs were expected to discuss a major Syrian government offensive backed by Russia and Iran now underway near Aleppo that rebels say threatens the future of their insurrection. Damascus aims to secure Syria's border with Turkey and recapture the city of Aleppo with its latest military offensive, a top adviser to President Bashar al- Assad said on Tuesday.

Riyadh offers berets for Syria as US prods anti-IS coalition

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