GCC, Turkey military intervention looms in Syria
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.