Saudis say ground troops not ruled out in fight against ISIL

Foreign minister says nothing is off the table following formation of a 34-state Islamic military coalition
Saudis say ground troops not ruled out in fight against ISIL
Saudi guard
By Reuters
Tue 15 Dec 2015 07:32 PM

A new Saudi-led Islamic alliance to fight terrorism will share information and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against ISIL militants, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia announced earlier on Tuesday the formation of a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism, a move welcomed by the United States which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against the militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

"Nothing is off the table," al-Jubeir said when asked whether the initiative could include troops on the ground.

"It depends on the requests that come, it depends on the need and it depends on the willingness of countries to provide the support necessary," he told a a news briefing in Paris.

A statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA said the new coalition would have a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to "coordinate and support military operations".

The states it listed as joining the new coalition included Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and several African nations.

The list did not include Shi'ite Muslim Iran, the arch rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. Tehran and Riyadh are ranged on opposite sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

The statement cited "a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations, whatever their sect and name, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent."

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the announcement after arriving at Incirlik airbase in Turkey on Tuesday at the start of a regional tour designed to drum up support for the US-led campaign against ISIL.

"We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition," he told reporters.

"But in general it appears it is very much in line with something we've been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL by Sunni Arab countries," Carter added.

ISIL has pledged to overthrow the monarchies of the Gulf and has also mounted a series of attacks on Shi'ite Muslim mosques and security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In a rare press conference on Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's 30-year-old deputy crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman said the new coalition aimed to "coordinate" efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

"There will be international coordination with major powers and international organisations ... In terms of operations in Syria and Iraq, we can't undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community," bin Salman said, without elaborating.

He offered few concrete indications of how the new coalition's military efforts might proceed.

Asked if the new alliance would focus only on ISIL, bin Salman said it would confront "any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us".

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab neighbours have been waging war for nine months against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen, launching hundreds of air strikes there.

A ceasefire took effect in Yemen on Tuesday as parties to the civil war began United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland in a new push to end fighting that has killed nearly 6,000 people.

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