GCC, Turkey military intervention looms in Syria

Friday 19/02/2016
Deci­sion to send ground forces is \'final\' and \'irreversible\'

LONDON - All indicators are pointing towards the likelihood of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and anti-Is­lamic State (ISIS) coalition partner Turkey launching ground opera­tions in Syria. This comes as Riyadh has resumed its participation in air strikes by a US-led coalition against ISIS.
“I can confirm the Saudis re­newed their participation in air strikes in the last few days,” Penta­gon spokesman Peter Cook said on February 16th.
The resumption of air strikes by Saudi Arabia comes as Istanbul con­tinues to push for ground opera­tions in Syria, hoping for the United States’ participation against ISIS. “Without ground operations, it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria,” a Turkish official said, add­ing that Turkey pressed the issue in recent discussions with the US and other Western nations.
UAE State Minister for Foreign Af­fairs Anwar Gargash emphasised the necessity of ground troops in Syria but with the caveat of the United States leading the offensive.
“Our position throughout is that a real campaign against ISIS has to include ground elements,” Gargash said during a news conference in Abu Dhabi.
“We are not talking about thou­sands of troops but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way. And, of course, an American leadership in this effort is a prerequisite.”
The latest manoeuvring by Ri­yadh and Ankara comes as Iranian-backed militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Tehran’s Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as well as Russian air strikes have brought the Syrian Army within 25km of Turkey’s borders.
Russia has increased its bom­bardment of Syria’s moderate re­bels, after agreeing to a humanitari­an ceasefire, with some speculating that the escalation soured relations with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and Mos­cow have, in the past year, traded a number of diplomatic visits and signed economic agreements and memorandums of understanding.
A visit scheduled for mid-March by Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud to Moscow appears in doubt. The Russian Foreign Min­istry announced the visit but the kingdom’s Foreign Ministry denied it, stating: “Media reports of the visit are incorrect.”
The announcement by Saudi Ara­bia that it was ready to dispatch ground troops to Syria was met with some scepticism. However, with the situation on the ground dete­riorating drastically and a cease­fire falling to hold, a Saudi Defence Ministry spokesman conveyed the sense of urgency. Brigadier-General Ahmed Asiri stated that the deci­sion to send the forces was “final” and “irreversible”.
In an effort to emphasise the seri­ousness of its pledge, Saudi Arabia launched the region’s largest mili­tary drill, code-named Operation Northern Thunder. According to the Saudi press agency, the exercise involves 150,000 troops from 20 countries and will include land, sea and air forces over 18 days.
The military exercises are ongo­ing at King Khalid Military City in Hafr Al-Batin in the north of the kingdom, close to the Iraqi border, and include military representa­tives from the GCC, Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, Sudan, Maldives, Mo­rocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Co­moros, Djibouti, Malaysia, Maurita­nia and Mauritius.