The Saudi embassy posted to Twitter today saying it is ready to send ground troops into Syria, ostensibly to fight the Islamic State.
Saudi Ministry of Defense spokesman: Saudi Arabia ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight Daesh (ISIS) if asked.
— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) February 4, 2016
“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, who is also the spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, told the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV in an interview.
Asseri said in order to defeat IS in Syria ground operations will be needed in addition to airstrikes.
“If there was a consensus from the leadership of the coalition, the kingdom is willing to participate in these efforts because we believe that aerial operations are not the ideal solution and there must be a twin mix of aerial and ground operations,” he said.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States is supportive of having coalition partners contribute to the fight against the Islamic State. “I would not want to comment specifically on this until we’ve had a chance to review it,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and Iran Are Fighting a Proxy War
Saudi Arabia is concerned about the presence of Iranian-backed troops in Syria. In October Iran deployed hundreds of ground troops in Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
It is generally agreed Saudi Arabia and Iran are conducting a proxy war in Syria and Yemen. In late January Riyadh and Tehran clashed during a closed door meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“The barbed exchange between Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at an invitation-only meeting on Wednesday underlined the hostility between the two Gulf rivals, who are waging proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq,” Reuters reported.
The Saudis broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution by Saudi Arabia of a leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
The ongoing proxy war between the two Gulf rivals expanded into Nigeria in December when Nigerian government forces carried out a brutal massacre against the country’s minority Muslim Shia population. Prior to the attack, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he was considering joining a Saudi-led coalition to fight the Islamic State.
Steps Toward a Ground War in Syria
In October Obama’s Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, told the Senate Armed Services committee the United States would begin “direct action on the ground” in Syria and Iraq. The move was recommended by Obama’s senior national security advisers.
The following month Sen. Lindsey Graham said ground forces, joined by troops from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the region would be needed to topple al-Assad.
“If you don’t destroy ISIL in Syria, which is their headquarters, we’re going to get attacked at home,” Graham said. “There’s an opportunity here with some American leadership to do two things, which is to destroy ISIL before we get hit at home, and also to push Assad out.”