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ABU DHABI — The newly unveiled joint Arab defense force will be twice the size of NATO's Response Force at 40,000 men, according to an Arab League source.

The force, announced during the Arab League Summit's preparatory meeting on March 25, will be based in Egypt and mainly comprise forces from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and be led by a Saudi officer at the helm, the source added.

The identity of the Saudi general has not been revealed but the source said consultations are still ongoing. The Arab League announced that a meeting of Arab chiefs of staff will take place in Cairo at the end of April to finalize the agreement.

"The majority of the units will be from Egypt, Morocco, with Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Jordan also providing troops while other countries will have smaller numbers included," the source said.

During the summit, a resolution was passed stating the force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups.

"The force would be made up of an air command, a naval command and a land operations command," the source told Defense News.

The source stated that 500 to 1,000 men will be members of the air command while 3,000 to 5,000 service members will be in the naval command and 34,000 to 35,000 will make up the land forces.

"The land forces will have three subcommands made up of a special operations command, a rapid reaction force and a rescue operations command," the source said

The Arab units within the force will be financed by their respective countries while oil-rich Arabian Gulf countries will cover the set up and management costs of the force.

"These forces will make up different combat styles and will be differently armed, therefore we will have similarly indoctrinated units combine together," the source stated.

The combined units, explained the source, will be made up of nations like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have joint experiences and similar armaments and munitions.

According to Jean-Marc Rickli, assistant professor, Department of Defence Studies, King's College London and a lecturer at the Qatar National Defence College, the most likely scenario is that this force will be formed out of specific specialized units contributed by member nations.

He added that the bulk of the units may be provided by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and possibly Sudan, while countries like Morocco, Jordan and the UAE would ideally provide the advanced special forces, precision-guided munitions or intelligence niche capabilities.

"If they decide to use it for major operations, the NATO Response Force [NRF] could be used as a template for smaller operations; the concept of framework nations as used by the European Union Battlegroup would make sense. In that case, some framework nations will have to be identified and they will be in charge of the backbone structure of the force as well as command and control," he said.

The birth of the Arab force highlights a lack of confidence by the Arab states in external allies, specifically Western allies, said Matthew Hedges, an Arabian Gulf-based independent military analyst. "The Arab Spring illustrated the ideological chasm between Western states and their regional allies, something that hasn't fully healed," he said.

"The new force is an extension of the proposed GCC military force that was touted to have included Jordan and Morocco; the inclusion of Egypt and others will substantially increase the power of the force as well as include nations that have conflict experience," he said.

However, Hedges stated that it is unlikely this force will be wholly successful in joint operations as previous examples of Arab-led coalitions often left much to be desired.

Historically, Arab countries have allied in major conflicts under the leadership of nations with the greatest influence in the region, such as Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and under the United States-led Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait.

Rickli stated that Saudi Arabia, as demonstrated by the operation in Yemen, and Egypt are the best candidates to take the lead.

"The issue of trust and information-sharing will represent, however, a major obstacle that the Arab countries will have to overcome," he said.

Operationally, the standard model is the one of a lead nation, Rickli added.

"A nation decides on an operation and then uses allies to fill niche capabilities or provide legitimacy, this was the case in the GCC intervention in Bahrain where KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] provided the bulk of the forces with a marginal contribution of the UAE," he said.

"It could be said that the bombing in Libya last August by the UAE with support of Egypt fits this model as well, again, the problem that Arab forces are facing is the one of interoperability and therefore the more partners there are in a coalition the more difficult the cooperation and coordination is."

The Arab armed forces are not trained to conduct joint operations because there is not trust between them," he added.

The US demonstrated its support for the force by the recent removal of the Egyptian arms embargo, Hedges said.

"The US has already shown its support for the united Arab force by releasing military aid to Egypt at such a sensitive time. The US and the West will commercially benefit from this force as they currently provide the vast majority of arms to the states involved in this conglomerate," he said.

"That said, Russia and other states will continue to provide arms to states with lower defense budgets and act as a secondary option for the force should Western policy clash with the aims of the united Arab force. Furthermore, the GCC states will continue to receive industry-leading technology and disperse funds and older armaments to its regional allies in an attempt to bolster regional capabilities whilst also strengthening their regional foreign policy efforts," he said.

Email: amustafa@defensenews.com

Twitter: @awadz

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