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US welcomes Saudi offer to deploy troops in Syria

Syrian and Iranian officials have warned Saudi Arabia agonist the deployment [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2016

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The US has welcomed Saudi Arabia's plans to deploy ground troops to Syria, as the kingdom kicks off large-scale multi-nation military exercises in the north.
The United States welcomes a Saudi offer to deploy special forces to support a coalition ground operation against the Islamic State group [IS] inside Syria, the kingdom's foreign minister said on Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said any operation would be US-led but that Saudi Arabia would play a leading role.

"The US government was very supportive and very positive about the kingdom's readiness to provide special forces to the operation in Syria, should the international coalition make a decision to do so," Jubeir told reporters.

"So the kingdom will be part of it," he said. "That support came from the White House, it came from the State Department, it was natural for Secretary Kerry to support such a decision."

Jubeir said the idea for a possible ground operation had come from Washington, and that members of the 65-strong coalition against IS would expect the US to lead it.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that the US welcomed the Saudi offer, and that discussions were ongoing, but would not comment on the nature or timing of any operation.

"We are talking about a ground element," he said. "We have discussed the potential value of a special operations capability inside that element, which would be valuable."

The US has publicly confirmed that it has sent a small number of special operations forces to eastern Syria to help local militias fight IS.

'North Thunder'

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia began large-scale military exercises on Tuesday in the far north of the country, just days after announcing its intentions to send troops to Syria.

Troops from Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, the UAE and other Gulf states are taking part in the operation "North Thunder", which is aimed at "boosting cooperation" between Saudi Arabia's allies.

The drills are scheduled to take place in the area of Hafr al-Batin, close to the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders, over the next few days.

Military experts, however, have denied the exercises are linked to the Saudi offer of a military deployment in Syria.

"Many people think the training is connected to the recent announcement, but in reality there is no connection," former Saudi commander Shami al-Dhaheri told The New Arab.

"They are annual exercises that were planned over a year before Saudi Arabia began fighting in Yemen," Dhaheri added.

Syrian and Iranian officials have responded to the Saudi offer by warning the kingdom to drop any plans to send troops that could potentially bolster retreating Syrian rebels facing a potentially shattering defeat in the northern province of Aleppo.

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