Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Monday held out the possibility of sending Saudi special forces into Syria as part of a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.
“There is a discussion with regard to a ground force contingent, or a special forces contingent, to operate in Syria by this international U.S.-led coalition against ISIS and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed its readiness to provide special forces to such operations should they occur,” he said.
Al-Jubeir spoke to reporters after he met for the second day in a row with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Their talks focused on conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Al-Jubeir declined to say how many troops Saudi Arabia might be prepared to send.
Last week an adviser to the Saudi defense minister said Saudi Arabia was ready to participate in any ground operation in Syria but did not specify the possibility of sending special forces.
Saudi military spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri said his country is prepared for a land war in Syria, the Saudi-backed Asharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday.
Asiri’s statement to the London- based paper comes after his country announced last week its willing to send ground troops as part of the international coalition to fight Islamic State.
The Senior Saudi defense official said that his country wants to defeat Islamic State.
He also announced Saudi Arabia would hold a large-scale military exercise called “Thunder of the North” with the participation of 21 Arab and Muslim countries. The exercise would enhance coordination and information sharing between the countries, Asiri said.
He added, according to the report, that “when participating countries feel that there are coordinated and interdependent efforts, the results of the exercise will be positive.
We have models based on real experience of being in the Arab coalition in Yemen where operations are running excellently and positively.”
Asiri noted that an exercise called “The Sword of Abdullah” held in 2014 was of a similar size.
Some analysts are skeptical that the Saudi plan to send troops would actually be carried out.
“The Saudis are not ‘fully prepared’ for a land intervention in Syria. They can hardly move forward with ground forces in Yemen and don’t have high-capacity forces to spare,” David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post.