British military sources told the Telegraph Britain to support Muslim nations...
Britain to support Muslim nations'
UK facing the prospect of being dragged further into the war in Syria by providing command and control, intelligence and air support to troops from the new coalition of Muslim nations against Islamic State jihadis
By Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor, Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent, and Louisa Loveluck
10:26PM GMT 15 Dec 2015
Britain faced the prospect of being dragged further into the war in Syriaon Tuesday night, as it was poised to support a newly-formed "ground army" from Muslim nations who could attack Isil within weeks.
The coalition of 34 largely Sunni Muslim nations on Tuesday night said it was planning to send special forces into Syria to help defeat Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
But any Gulf or other forces would clearly add to or take the place of the 70,000 “moderate rebels” whom David Cameron, the Prime Minister, wants to be the "boots on the ground" to displace Isil in Syria but who say they already have their hands full fighting the Assad regime.
The Saudis and their Sunni Muslim allies would also be intent on preventing any vacuum being filled by the Bashar al-Assad regime, or its Shia Iranian allies, against whom the Gulf is facing off across the region.
That raises the prospect of the West being drawn directly into the confrontation between the two rival sectarian blocs.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, was speaking after the country’s powerful new deputy crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled the coalition in the capital Riyadh.
"There are discussions, countries that are currently part of the coalition (like) Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, about sending some special forces into Syria, and those discussions are ongoing," Mr Jubeir said. "It's not excluded."
The Gulf states, some of which have been accused of supporting militants, are attempting to prove their loyalty to western allies and their determination to take on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). They also face their own threats from Isil, including from returning "foreign fighters".
Mr Jubeir said the new alliance would share information and train, equip and provide troops. "Nothing is off the table," he said.
A 16-month bombing campaign led by the United States has failed to crush Isil and military planners say victory will require the assistance of a unified ground force that can hold territory and progress under cover of air strikes.
Earlier this month, following a vote in parliament, it extended air operations from Iraq to Isil positions in Syria, though last night it said it had not struck targets in the latter country since December 6.
Since then, the jets involved, Tornado GR4s and Typhoon FGR4s, along with unmanned Reaper drones, have just struck in Iraq.
Afzal Ashraf, a former senior RAF officer and now a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said in principle the coalition was an excellent idea.
He said: “It’s a departure from the Saudi and Gulf players’ mindset which has tended to look to the West for security. It’s good that they are now beginning to address regional security concerns themselves.”
The purchasing power and weapons of the Gulf nations, coupled with the Nato training of Turkey and the long combat experience of Pakistan suggested that on paper they could mount a powerful force, he said.
But he said they would have to work “hand in glove” with Western forces, and cautioned that the Muslim world had a poor record of military cooperation.
Mr Cameron has previously raised the idea of working with Syria’s estimated 70,000 moderate rebels, but most of those groups say they are already engaged across an array of different front lines, fighting forces loyal to the Syrian regime.
The West’s most effective allies to date, the Kurds, have now reached the limits of their ethnic heartland in both Syria and Iraq and are reluctant to advance further.
A Sunni international ground force could solve this problem, as it would be called upon to re-take majority Sunni areas such as Raqqa, Isil’s de facto Syrian capital.
The likelihood of this outcome would become clearer in the coming weeks, Mr Jubair said on Tuesday, adding that it “depends on the requests that come, it depends on the need and it depends on the willingness of countries to provide the support necessary.”
The alliance would have a joint operations centre in Riyadh to “coordinate and support military operations”, said the Saudi state news agency SPA. Members would include Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, it said.
It would also present a united Sunni front against the influence of Saudi Arabia’s greatest foe, Iran, with which it is engaged in bitter proxy wars across the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and many of its allies would be determined to prevent a situation whereby if Raqqa, or other Isil-held territory in Syria, fell, the regime and its Iranian backers simply took its place.
The new alliance was immediately welcomed in Washington, which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against the militants.
Speaking on a visit to the Incerlik air base in Turkey at the start of a regional tour designed to drum up support for Washington’s military campaign, the US defence secretary, Ashton Carter, said: "We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind."
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "We welcome countries in the international community doing more to work together to look at fighting terrorism. I think we are still waiting to understand a bit more of the details of it and how it's going to work."
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