Saudi Arabia is willing to send special forces to Syria as part of a U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State militants, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said.
The deployment of Saudi forces in Syria is under discussion, Al-Jubeir said after holding talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday. The idea was proposed by the U.S. and participating nations would expect American leadership of the operation, he said
It wasn’t immediately clear how the offer, which follows similar comments by other Gulf states as well as Turkey in recent days, would translate into practice. The U.S. has repeatedly called on Sunni Muslim nations to do more to support the coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in January that the inaction by Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia was “strange.”
The Gulf offer comes at a time when the key battle is in northwest Syria, between rebels backed by the Turks and Saudis, and the army of President Bashar al-Assad supported by Russia and Iran. Islamic State isn’t central to that conflict, and the U.S. has signaled it doesn’t favor an escalation in military support for the rebels, even as they suffer a string of defeats.
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said there’s a risk of a “dangerous escalation” in Syria. He told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday that reports of possible ground-troop deployments, as well as the massing of refugees at the Turkish border, require restraint from all sides.
Kerry thanked Saudi Arabia for its “willingness to put troops” into the fight against Islamic State, according to an e-mailed transcript of their joint press conference.
Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf neighbors initially took part in airstrikes against Islamic State, but their participation trailed off as they concentrated on fighting in Yemen. Saudi-led forces there have made limited gains against Shiite Houthi rebels, whom they say are allied with Iran, since starting a bombing campaign in March last year.
(Updates with UN official’s comments in fifth paragraph.)