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Saudi Arabia flexes muscle in region's 'largest military training'

Twenty nations from Middle East, Africa and Asia took part in the drills [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 March, 2016

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Video: Nearly 350,000 troops have taken part in what has been described as the region's largest ever military training exercise as geopolitical tensions continue to build.
Nearly 350,000 troops from across 20 nations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have been taking part in what is thought to be the largest ever peacetime military exercise undertaken in the Arabian desert.

The 12-day exercise, dubbed Northern Thunder, concluded with officials from the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Egypt attending the finale manoeuvres.

The training attempted to increase coordination in combat operations as well as tighten guerrilla warfare tactics among the Muslim-majority nations fighting alongside Saudi Arabia.

Among the drills was a two-hour mock battle involving fighter jets, helicopters and tanks.

Saudi Arabia, the main host of the military exercise, has taken a more active role in military operations across the region since King Salman took the throne last year.

In Yemen, more than 6,000 people have died since a Saudi-led coalition launched an aerial bombing campaign on Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The kingdom's military is also involved in US-led airstrikes against the militant Islamic State group in Iraq, and has shown keen interest in sending special forces to fight in Syria.

But the unprecedented military training exercise, described by authorities as "the most important and largest in the region's history", suggest the kingdom is making a more assertive show of force against its regional rival, Iran, amid escalating tensions.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia, with stern backing from its Gulf allies, has taken firm steps against Iran by exerting force on Lebanese authorities to halt Hizballah's activities in the region.

Hizballah, a guerrilla group that receives both monetary and military support from Iran, has been accused of helping train rebels in Yemen in their fight against Saudi Arabia.

Soldiers from Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan, Sudan, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and all six GCC nations took part in the training exercises.

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