Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday the kingdom’s willingness to deploy troops to Syria as part of U.S.-led efforts to stabilise the conflict-torn country.
“We are in discussions with the U.S. and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis [in 2011] about sending forces into Syria,” Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The comments were in response to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to help stabilise Syria.
The report followed weekend missile strikes in Syria by the United States, the U.K. and France against targets they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
Jubeir emphasised the proposal to send its troops was “not new”.
“We made a proposal to the Obama administration that if the U.S. were to send forces … then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent,” he said.
Nicholas A. Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, cast some doubt on Saudi Arabia’s ability to deploy forces abroad.
“Although these comments by Saudi Arabia are a good start, the reality is that Saudi Arabia has difficulty defending its own southern borders from the Houthis based in Yemen,” Heras told The Defense Post.
“The capability of Saudi Arabia to send forces to Yemen, except in hiring third-country-national fighters, is tenuous at best,” he added.
U.S. forces are deployed in northern and eastern Syria, where they train, advise and assist the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against Islamic State. U.S. forces have also been deployed in Manbij since March 2017 to reassure the SDF and deter hostilities between the SDF-aligned Manbij Military Council and nearby Turkey-backed Syrian opposition groups.
The war in Syria, perhaps the most tangled of the region’s conflicts, has seen Saudi Arabia and its allies support Sunni Muslim opposition fighters, while regional rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah back President Basher al-Assad’s forces.
Saudi Arabia and Iran also back opposing sides in other hotspots across the Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen.
With reporting from AFP