Saudi Arabia ready to send ground troops to Syria: official
Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf makes a pledge during the second co-host chaired thematic pledging session for jobs and economic development during the 'Supporting Syria and the Region' conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP / Matt Dunham)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, February 4, 2016 2:12PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 4, 2016 6:29PM EST
CAIRO -- A Saudi military spokesman said Thursday the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State group provided coalition leaders agree during an upcoming meeting in Brussels.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told The Associated Press that Saudi Arabia has taken part in coalition airstrikes against IS since the U.S.-led campaign began in September 2014, but could now provide ground troops.
The United States is scheduled to convene a meeting of defence ministers from countries fighting IS in Brussels this month.
"We are determined to fight and defeat Daesh," Asiri said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. He didn't elaborate on how many troops the kingdom would send.
Saudi Arabia is deeply involved in Yemen's civil war, where it is fighting Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have long viewed Iran as a regional menace, and Riyadh and Tehran back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.
A spokesman said the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on the issue of Saudi Arabia's involvement, but added that "in general we want members of the coalition against Daesh to look for ways to do more and to contribute more."
Asiri's announcement came shortly after Russia said it suspects Turkey of planning a military invasion of Syria.
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday in a statement that the Russian military has registered "a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria."
He said images of a checkpoint on the Turkish-Syrian border taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons.
The announcement came a day after U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva were suspended for three weeks.
The United States blames both Syria's government and Russia for stalling the peace negotiations. Syrian government troops, backed by Russian airstrikes, have increased the pace of attacks on opposition forces in recent days as the talks faltered.
"We believe that the airstrikes alone are not the perfect solution," Asiri said in another interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV.