Saudi official: Syria ground operation discussed

Saudi official says international coalition contemplated a ground operation in Syria but hasn't yet decided on one.

Ben Ariel ,

Airstrikes in Syria (archive)
Airstrikes in Syria (archive)

Defense ministers from the international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) group, led by the United States, discussed the possibility of a Syrian ground incursion two weeks ago, an aide to Saudi Arabia's defense minister quoted by Reuters said on Monday.

He stressed, however, that a decision on the issue has not yet been made.

"It was discussed two weeks ago in Brussels," the official, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, told Reuters in a telephone interview from Riyadh.

"It was discussed at the political level but it wasn't discussed as a military mission," he added.

"Once this is organized, and decided how many troops and how they will go and where they will go, we will participate in that," said Asseri. "We need to discuss at the military level very extensively with the military experts to make sure that we have a plan."

Asseri also told the news agency that Saudi Arabia was now ready to strike Islamic State from Turkey's southern Incirlik air base, where four Saudi fighter jets arrived last week.

The jets have not yet participated in any attacks, he added.

Saudi Arabia said several weeks ago it had decided to send troops to Syria to fight ISIS, though it stressed at the time that it would only take part in airstrikes against the group and that questions about any future ground operations should be directed to Washington.

Later reports indicated Turkey was planning a ground incursion into Syria with the Saudis.

The U.S. State Department said on Monday the Saudis had previously talked about the possibility of introducing ground forces in Syria to fight Islamic State, but there were many issues that needed to be discussed about a potential incursion.

Deploying ground forces would be a major escalation for the 66-member U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, which has so far relied mainly on air strikes and arming and equipping moderate Syrian opposition groups, noted Reuters.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing in Washington that the Saudis had talked about "the potential of an introduction of some sort of ground force element in Syria" and that the United States would welcome such a contribution in the fight against Islamic State.

"But there's a lot that needs to be discussed in terms of what they would do, what their makeup would be, how they would need to be supported by the coalition going forward. So there's a lot of homework that needs to be done," Kirby said, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, a U.S. defense official would not comment on the matter, saying, "As a matter of policy, we won't comment or speculate on potential future operations."