Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is willing to deploy ground troops to Syria to combat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), as part of the U.S.-led coalition.
The announcement came a day after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said foreign troops who enter Syria without the blessing of the Bashar al-Assad regime would “return home in wooden coffins.”
Al-Muallem’s made those comments while briefing reporters Saturday, two days after Saudi Arabia said it would deploy ground troops into Syria if the U.S.-led coalition agrees to the offer.
“This has been our position throughout,” the UAE’s Gargash told reporters in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi on Sunday when asked if Gulf nation was ready to put boots on the ground if need be, according to Reuters.
“We have been frustrated at the slow pace … of confronting Daesh,” said the UAE official, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym, adding, ”We are not talking about thousands of troops, but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way … that will support … and I think our position remains the same and we will have to see how this progresses.”
Gargash noted that “American leadership on this” would be a prerequisite for the Gulf nation’s participation in ground operations.
In a warning to Sunni Arab countries that have shown a willingness to join ground operations in Syria, Assad’s foreign minister said on Saturday, “Any ground intervention in Syria, without the consent of the Syrian government, will be considered an aggression that should be resisted by every Syrian citizen. I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins.”
Syria’s al-Muallem reportedly stressed the message three times during the press briefing, saying it applies to anyone who attacks Syria with ground forces.
On Thursday, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told Al Jazeera, “Today, the Saudi kingdom announced its readiness to participate with ground troops with the US-led coalition against ISIL, because we now have the experience in Yemen.”
“We know that air strikes cannot be enough and that a ground operation is needed,” he added. “We need to combine both to achieve better results on the ground.”
Gen. Asseri did not elaborate on how many troops the kingdom was willing to deploy.
The Saudi kingdom’s offer to step up its role in the fight against ISIS came after recent military gains by Assad forces, backed by Russian airstrikes.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the Saudi kingdom’s offer to participate in ground operations in Syria.
“The United States has very much indicated our desire to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL, [and] we’ll do that better, and it’ll be easier to sustain the defeat … if other countries that are part of the coalition accelerate their efforts at the same time,” Carter told reporters Thursday after addressing airmen at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
“So that kind of news is very welcome,” he added. “I look forward to discussing that with the Saudi defense minister next week — that and other kinds of contributions that Saudi Arabia can make.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have participated in airstrikes against ISIS as part of the U.S.-led coalition.
However, a report by the New York Times last November accused America’s Arab allies, including the Saudi and Emirati armed forces, of largely abandoning the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS, saying Saudi Arabia and the UAE had shifted the focus of their military air assets on their battle against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
A Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE is deeply involved in Yemen’s civil war, where it is fighting the Shiite Houthi rebels, backed by Assad’s ally Iran, both on the ground and from the air.
Iran has long been viewed as a regional menace by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, including the UAE. Tehran and Riyadh back opposite sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Iran has reportedly criticized Saudi Arabia over its offer to deploy ground troops to Syria.
Mohammad Ali Jafari, a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was quoted by the state-controlled Fars news agency as saying he did not think the Saudis were “brave enough” to send ground troops.
“They talk big,” Jafari said. “But even if it happens, it won’t be bad because they would be definitely defeated.”
Syria and Russia have joined Iran in ridiculing the Saudi military, reports Breitbart News.