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In this Sept. 17, 2015, file photo, Saudi security forces take part in a military parade in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP)
In this Sept. 17, 2015, file photo, Saudi security forces take part in a military parade in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP)

Saudi Arabia ready to send ground troops to Syria, official says Add to ...

A Saudi military spokesman said Thursday the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State group provided coalition leaders agree during an upcoming meeting in Brussels.

Brigadier-General Ahmed Asiri told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia has taken part in coalition air strikes against the Islamic State since the United States-led campaign began in September, 2014, but could now provide ground troops.

The United States is scheduled to convene a meeting of defence ministers from countries fighting the Islamic State in Brussels this month.

“We are determined to fight and defeat Daesh,” Brig.-Gen. Asiri said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He didn’t elaborate on how many troops the kingdom would send.

Saudi Arabia is deeply involved in Yemen’s civil war, where it is fighting Iranian-backed Shia rebels. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have long viewed Iran as a regional menace, and Riyadh and Tehran back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

A spokesman said the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on the issue of Saudi Arabia’s involvement, but added that “in general we want members of the coalition against Daesh to look for ways to do more and to contribute more.”

Brig.-Gen. Asiri’s announcement came shortly after Russia said it suspects Turkey of planning a military invasion of Syria.

Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Thursday in a statement that the Russian military has registered “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria.”

He said images of a checkpoint on the Turkish-Syrian border taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons.

The announcement came a day after United Nations-led peace talks in Geneva were suspended for three weeks.

The United States blames both Syria’s government and Russia for stalling the peace negotiations. Syrian government troops, backed by Russian air strikes, have increased the pace of attacks on opposition forces in recent days as the talks faltered.

“We believe that the air strikes alone are not the perfect solution,” Brig.-Gen. Asiri said in another interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV.

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