Saudi Arabia says it’s ‘Ready to Send Ground Troops’ to Syria

[Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP]

 

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, has said the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to “fight ISIS” following the meeting between US Senator John McCain and the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The Saudi foreign minister said Saudi forces could battle ISIS alongside US special forces in Syria, Süddeutsche Zeitung repoted on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is a long-term supporter of various radical jihadi groups, including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), opposing the Syrian government.

Any involvement of Saudi forces in the conflict in Syria will clearly lead to the escalation of the war.

If you want to know more about Saudi Arabia’s Armed Forces, SF recomends the article below:

INTRODUCTION

Saudi Arabia’s GDP reached almost 800 billion dollars in 2014 with а military budget of more than 70 billion dollars. The country that has a population of less than 30 million people and an army of 233,500 units is ranked third in the world in military spending. The technology and weaponry which is used by the Saudi military is one of the most modern one, and most of the other countries in the region can hardly compete in modernization with the Saudi’s, with the exception of Israel. Although being rich and having a highly modernized army, Saudi Arabia heavily relies on overseas partners for its security and assistance in military training and development. The main allies of this Gulf monarchy are France, the U.S. and the UK; this summer alone, the Saudis spent around 4-5 billion dollars on London’s arms expo also known as DSEI. Therefore why is YouTube full of videos posted by sparsely equipped Houthi rebels showing state-of-the-art US-manufactured weapons belonging to the Saudi military being easily blown up by Russian-made anti-tank missiles?

If numbers were all that mattered in terms of military effectiveness, the Saudis should not have had any problems in Yemen. The Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) number some 75 thousand soldiers organized into 9 armored and mechanized brigades plus support units, with a total of about 600 MBTs (including 200 M1 Abrams-family tanks), nearly 800 IFVs (half of which are US M2 Bradley vehicles), supported by hundreds of towed and self-propelled artillery pieces. The Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) numbers an additional 100 thousand troops organized into 9 or 10 brigades which are however predominantly equipped with light armored vehicles. The Saudi military potential is rounded out by its powerful navy with numerous frigates and corvettes, and also the air force with 7 squadrons  of F-15 fighters, 3 squadrons of Tornado strike aircraft, and 2 squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighters. It is an extremely impressive force that would be the envy of many a European power, not to mention regional Middle Eastern ones.  What these numbers fail to convey is that Saudi Arabia has never been tested by war. Even its participation in the Operation Desert Shield/Storm was largely token in nature, which led international defense experts to speculate that perhaps not all is well with the Saudi defense establishment. But it took the war in Yemen to reveal the full scale of these problems.

There are 233,500 active servicemen in Saudi’s military: Army 75,000; Navy 13,500; Air Force 20,000; Air Defense 16,000; Industrial Security Force 9,000; National Guard 100,000 and Paramilitary 15,500.

YEMEN CONFLICT

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military operation called “Decisive Storm”,  part of the operation is conducted in the South of the country in the Najran province. The deployments in the Najran province are drawn both from the Royal Saudi Land Force (RSLF) and the National Guard (SANG), with Brigadier General Muhammad Ali Shahrani leading the units. The operation should have primarily targeted Houthi rebels which have managed to cross the border and are making foothold inside the country. The main problem with this Saudi military deployment is the lack of coordination between the RSLF and the SANG, while the RSLF falls under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Defense, the SANG is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior Affairs.  In addition, whereas the RSLF is the country’s “official” military, in actuality the most favored military force in the kingdom is the SANG which is recruited from among the most loyal tribes in Saudi Arabia. This creates a certain mismatch between RSLF and SANG. As noted above, the RSLF on paper boasts an extremely impressive military arsenal. What the raw numbers do not show is that in many instances Western powers supply equipment with suitably downgraded characteristics (Saudi M1 Abrams tanks, for example, are not up to the same level of equipment and armor protection as vehicles issued to the US forces), and moreover the RSLF is heavily dependent on Western contractors for equipment maintenance. The RSLF training regimen is also not sufficient to allow its troops to fully realize their potential.

The reason for the disparity between RSLF’s paper and actual strength is political. To put it bluntly, the Saudi monarchy does not trust its military, and the main reason the kingdom has that level of equipment has less to do with military considerations than, again, political ones. Saudi defense contracts are a way by which to “launder” petrodollars back into Western economies. This allows Saudi Arabia to escape criticism, let alone sanctions, for its support of international terrorism (Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, and others), not to mention for its human rights record. The recent stories concerning Saudi Arabia’s alleged interest in procuring Russian weapons were in the same category–the proposed arms deal was Saudi Arabia’s effort to bribe Russia into abandoning its support for the legitimate Syrian government.

This while the RSLF is the “paper” military which exists as a holding pool for military equipment that it can never fully use but which provides the kingdom with a certain level of prestige and possibly a ready pool of replacements for US forces in the region should the need arise, the SANG is the more important military force which is less well equipped but better trained and motivated, and whose mission includes keeping a watchful eye on the RSLF.

Houthi rebels are making the most of these built-in obstacles to Saudi military effectiveness. In the past two weeks, the Houthi forces launched around nine ballistic missiles towards Saudi’s military positions while evading any military attempts to destroy missile caches and launch machinery. Constant raids across the border have proven to be difficult and are taking its toll on the military and the civilian population in the region. After failing in their task to prevent further escalation in Yemen and letting it spill all-over across their border, the Saudi regime is likely preparing a direct attack against the Houthi leaders. As some reports suggest, the actions will be carried out by the special forces, supported by the Air Force. At first glance, this plan may seem as a good idea, crushing the leadership of the Houthi rebels will ultimately end the struggle in Yemen, allowing Saudi Arabia to contest this important geo-strategic region. On the other hand, the Houthi rebels aren’t the only force which wages battles across Yemen. Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQIY) and the rise of the Islamic State in this country are becoming major problems not only for the opposing factions in Yemen, but for the external factors as well. Yemen is a country of importance for the global geo-strategic players, and especially for the regional countries. Controlling the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea Yemen has an enormous influence on Saudi’s oil trade. Also further escalations in Yemen can have an effect of spillover to Somalia and Eritrea, more or less unstable countries with a lot of potential of becoming new hot spots for terrorists.

CONCLUSION

Despite this modernized and large arsenal, the military capabilities of Saudi Arabia are not that impressive. The conflict in Yemen is testing those capabilities and the leader of the newly appointed Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, who pushed the idea of military intervention in Yemen. Although the intervention may seem as a rapid action which can pull the Saudis into an unprepared conflict, the regime was well-aware and had plans for it back in 2012 when they bought large amounts of military equipment and supplies from the US. This deal between Saudi Arabia and the US is worth over 60 billion dollars in full-life costs over the next 15-20 years, the deal includes 84 F-15SA combat aircraft, 190 helicopters, more than 12,000 missiles and 15,000 bombs and many upgrades in the Saudis Air Force. Signing this deal, Saudi Arabia is clearly marking its territory on the Arabian Peninsula and sending an open message to Iran that the proxy wars which are raging across the Middle East will continue in the future.

Full article: Saudi Arabia says it’s ‘Ready to Send Ground Troops’ to Syria (South Front)

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