BRUSSELS/RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has decided to increase its military contributions to the campaign against Daesh, including offering to expand its role in the air campaign, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s spokesman said on Thursday after bilateral talks.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Carter at a gathering of coalition defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“The secretary thanked the deputy crown prince for participating in the meeting of coalition defense ministers, and for Saudi Arabia’s decision to increase its military contributions, especially the Kingdom’s offer to expand its role in the air campaign,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.
Carter predicted that recent US-led efforts to accelerate the fight against Daesh would produce “tangible gains” in Iraq and Syria by March. He urged coalition partners to expand and deepen their military contributions.
“This meeting marks the beginning of a new stage in the coalition campaign to defeat Daesh,” Carter said. He suggested that countries not answering his call to do more may regret their choice when the struggle is over.
“We will all look back after victory and remember who participated in the fight,” he said.
In Munich, Germany, US Secretary of State John Kerry was trying on Thursday to find a way to halt what amounts to a parallel war in Syria. Five years of civil war have pitted Bashar Assad’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, against an array of weakened opposition groups.
Carter said coalition military chiefs, including US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, would meet soon to discuss and evaluate the campaign, and that in mid-March the US Central Command headquarters in Florida would convene a military conference to assess progress.
“By then, at the latest, we should begin to see tangible gains from those additional capabilities, from the ones the coalition is already bringing to bear,” Carter said.
At a separate news conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance agreed to deploy NATO airborne command and control aircraft in order to free up similar US aircraft for the campaign in Syria and Iraq. Details were to be worked out.
“We are looking into how we can step up our effort” beyond that, Stoltenberg said, suggesting that no additional NATO military contributions are imminent.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia said its offer to send ground troops into Syria in an attempt to bolster and toughen efforts against terrorists is an “irreversible decision.”
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition force in Yemen, said that Riyadh is “ready” and will fight with its US-led coalition allies to defeat Daesh militants in Syria. However, he said, Washington is more suitable to answer questions on further details about any future ground operations. “We are representing Saudi (decision) only in sending troops,” he said.
Saudi Arabian television quoted Al-Assiri as saying Saudi Arabia wanted the US-led coalition targeting Daesh to agree to the Kingdom's deployment.
Riyadh has long accused Tehran of supporting the Houthi militia in Yemen against the internationally recognized government there. Iran is also a key ally to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.