Saudi Arabia is holding talks with the United States about sending troops into Syria as part of a wider international coalition, the kingdom’s foreign minister has said.
In his comments on Tuesday, Adel al-Jubeir said the deployment offer was “not new”, adding that Riyadh had previously proposed the idea to former US President Barack Obama.
“We are in discussion with the US, and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria,” al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh during a press conference alongside Antonio Guterres, the UN chief.
“We made a proposal to the [previous] Obama administration that if the US were to send forces … then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent.”
The kingdom announced its readiness to deploy ground troops in 2016 to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Syria.
While Saudi’s air force partook in the aerial campaign aimed at defeating ISIL from the very beginning in 2014, the Gulf kingdom stopped short of a full ground troop deployment.
The news came a day after the Wall Street Journal reported US President Donald Trump was looking to assemble an Arab force that would include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to replace US military presence in Syria.
The force, which Trump’s new National Security Adviser John Bolton hopes will include Egypt, would be in charge of stabilising the northeastern part of Syria, according to the report.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, DC, noted that the US defence establishment “is going to be very wary” of the Saudi plan.
“There’s great concern among leadership inside the [US] military about the ability of Saudi forces – just look at the war in Yemen that the US has been helping them fight with intelligence and refuelling,” said Culhane.
“There have been humanitarian catastrophes, numbers of schools and hospitals that have been hit, raising big concerns among human rights activists.”
Another key question is what will happen to US troops in Syria and whether they are expected to stay as part of an expanded mission, added Culhane.
“[It is] not at all clear that Trump is going to be OK with that,” she added.
The US has an estimated 2,000 troops stationed inside Syria, according to the Pentagon.