President Trump’s new national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo are among those pushing to build a coalition of Arab military forces that could replace US troops in Syria and serve as a stabilizing force in the region once ISIS is defeated, according to official sources.
While convincing nations like Saudi Arabia to join the cause is sure to come at a price, the Trump administration is considering an offer that includes putting a compelling reward on the table, a source close to the White House told CNN.
A similar concept was initially floated in 2013 as part of the Obama administration’s anti-ISIS strategy, but the idea of establishing an Arab force aligned with US interests recently picked up new momentum after President Donald Trump declared that he wants to withdraw US troops from Syria and have other countries “take care of it.”
Specifically, the US is pursuing contributions from Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help counter Iran in Syria by filling the void should the US significantly reduce its footprint in the country.
A source close to the White House told CNN on Tuesday that despite initial concerns that Trump would withdraw from Syria in the very near term, discussions have shifted toward developing a transition plan and that the administration is continuing its push to enlist the help of several Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
This source also confirmed that Bolton recently called Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, to gauge whether his country would be willing to contribute to the effort, a detail previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Designating Saudi Arabia a major non-NATO ally would formally acknowledge their standing as a strategic military partner with the US on the level of key allies like Israel, South Korea and Jordan.
“Major non-NATO status is a real feather in the cap of many nations … in a sense it would essentially cement the US as the guarantor of Saudi security for the foreseeable future,” said Nicholas Heras, a Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
If the Arab nations did agree to this proposal, they’d still probably require logistical support and targeting data from U.S. satellites. So while U.S. boots wouldn’t necessarily be on the ground, the financial responsibility would still be a cross to bear for Washington.
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