Saudi Arabia 'ready to send ground troops' to fight Isis in Syria if US-led coalition agrees

Kingdom has taken part in air strikes against militant group since September 2014

Caroline Mortimer
Thursday 04 February 2016 20:12

A Saudi military spokesman has said the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to fight Isis in Syria if the US-led coalition agrees.

Brigardier General Ahmed Asiri told Dubai-based TV channel Al-Arabiya the country will commit ground troops to the conflict for the first time if its coalition partners agree during an upcoming meeting in Brussels.

Saudi Arabia has taken part in the coalition's air strikes since the US began the air assault on Isis in September 2014

Brig. Gen Asiri said: "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".

He said they were determined to "fight and defeat Daesh (Isis)" but did not say how many troops his country would send.

The kingdom is currently embroiled in the conflict against Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen which is said to be putting strain on the Saudi economy - which has already been battered in a fall in the oil price.

In December last year, the Yemen campaign drew criticism from Human Rights Watch who said the war could be breaking international law.

Government troops walk past Isis flag in recaptured Syrian town

Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows for its support of Jabhat al-Nusra, another jihadist group in the region fighting against both Isis and the Assad government - which is backed by Russia and Iran.

German intelligence agencies suggested the kingdom was destabilising the entire region with the interventionalist policies pursued by the young branches of the royal family.

Asked about the Saudi offer at a briefing, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said while the coalition was generally supportive of members contributing more to the struggle against the terror group he did not want to comment on a proposal he had not seen.

He said: "I would not want to comment specifically on this until we've had a chance to review it".

The United States is scheduled to convene a meeting of defence ministers from countries fighting Isis in Brussels this month.

The announcement comes just a day after the UN-led peace talks in Geneva were "temporarily halted" after a major advance by pro-Assad forces disrupted a vital supply line for rebels north of Aleppo.

The advance - backed by Russian air strikes - saw the army break a three year siege of two government controlled towns in the area - Nubul and Zahraa - which were previously surrounded by opposition territory.

Additional reporting by agencies

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