- Government waiting for coalition decision on Syria engagement
- Accuses Russia of getting pulled into religious war in Syria
Saudi Arabia moved fighter jets to a Turkish airbase and offered its special forces for a possible ground offensive in Syria by a U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State.
“We have made a decision to provide special forces as part of any ground component that the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh may lead in Syria, and now we are waiting,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh on Sunday, using an alternative name for Islamic State. Saudi fighter jets have deployed to Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, Saudi Defense Ministry adviser Ahmed Asseri said on Al-Arabiya television late on Saturday.
The Saudi offer comes as Syrian government troops advance against rebels backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, threatening to drive them out of Aleppo with the help of Russian airstrikes. Islamic State isn’t central to that area of the Syrian 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.
Before giving details about the size of its planned ground contingent, Saudi Arabia would need to know that the coalition is planning a ground invasion and what its objective would be, al-Jubeir said. “Then I can tell you, how many people, when and where," he said.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations initially took part in airstrikes against Islamic State at the start of the coalition campaign in 2014, but their participation trailed off as their focus shifted to the war in Yemen. The U.S. has repeatedly called on Sunni Muslim nations to do more to support operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Al-Jubeir also accused Russia of becoming embroiled in a religious war by siding with Iran and President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, according to an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung. It isn’t in Russia’s benefit to signal to its Sunni Muslim population that it’s fighting alongside Shi’ite Muslims, al-Jubeir told the German newspaper.
All major outside powers in Syria’s five-year-old conflict, including the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, on Friday backed a truce that’s set to start on Feb. 19. Russia and the U.S. have since clashed over how the plan will be implemented. Islamic State isn’t part of the agreement.