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Saudi, Turkish Forces Prep for Potential Air, Land Invasion of Syria

February 13, 2016 (Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images)

Originally published Feb. 13 at 3:40 p.m. ET; updated with more details from Turkish officials Feb. 15 at 11:05 a.m. ET.

DUBAI and ANKARA — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Feb. 13 that Turkey and Saudi Arabia may join forces for ground operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) in Syria.

Although a senior Saudi military official said the Royal Saudi Air Force deployed fighter jets to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, Turkish officials say the deployment will take place in the coming weeks.

Brigadier Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, consultant to Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, confirmed to Saudi-owned news station Al-Arabiya the arrival of Saudi Air Force jets at the Turkish base.

"Our jet fighters and crews have been deployed to the Incirlik Air Base," he said. "We have deployed them as part of the international coalition led by Washington," he added.

Assiri also confirmed the kingdom's readiness to enter ground operations in Syria but to this point no Saudi Special Operations Forces have been deployed to Turkey.

"The Saudi deployment is only limited to Air Force personnel at this point," he said.

Turkish military sources said the Saudi aircraft would be used either in airstrikes against ISIL strongholds in Syria or in support missions if the two countries decide to engage in a cross-border land operation inside Syria.

They did not comment on how many Saudi aircraft would arrive on Turkish soil, but they confirmed reports that Saudi military officials visited Incirlik recently on a reconnaissance mission.

Cavusoglu said that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long considered a land operation in Syria but no decision has been made.

He said: “This is not an issue for Turkey or Saudi Arabia alone, we have been saying that the [international] coalition should be doing this. But there is no solid decision on this yet, no concrete strategy. This is not a new idea, but as of today there is no final decision regarding a ground operation.”

Sunni regional powers Turkey and Saudi Arabia has long spearheaded efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is supported by Shiite and Shiite-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq and by Russia.


US Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Feb. 12 said that after the agreement with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to restart airstrikes he was hoping to "ramp up" their participation in operations. 

He added that the two countries have had liaisons in Syria.

"It’s February now, so I’m a man in a hurry here," Carter said in Brussels.

"We’ve worked with their special forces before in other settings. They have very capable special forces, and again, they have a unique political and even moral role to play in this conflict. And that makes them important partners in that regard, as well as the very powerful military capability they both bring," He said.

Aaron Mehta contributed to this report from Brussels.


Twitter: @Awadz


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