BRUSSELS — US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter says the United Arab Emirates is ready to recommit to an air campaign in Syria.
Following a meeting with the defense minister of the UAE on Friday, Carter declared the UAE a "stalwart" partner that punches "way above its weight militarily," before telling reporters the Sunni power had agreed to re-enter the fight against the Islamic State group, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, in a big way.
"They indicated to me their willingness now to do more, which is important," said Carter. "Specifically to restart their participation in the air campaign, which is very important."
He added that UAE special forces may also become involved on the ground in Syria, including assisting in the training and equipping of local Sunni security forces.
That follows on a commitment from Saudi Arabia, made Thursday at a major meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition, to similarly restart the air campaign over Syria. Carter also compared the offer of special forces from Saudi to that of the UAE.
"They have very capable special forces, and they have a unique political, and even moral, role to play in this conflict," Carter said of the two Sunni nations. "And that makes them important partners in that regard, as well as the very powerful military capability they both bring."
However, the agreement to restart the air campaign does not appear to come with extra weapons sales from the US. Carter acknowledged concerns from both nations about their levels of guided munitions, but said plans are already in place to deal with that.
"This wasn't something we even needed to discuss, actually, with the UAE, because we have agreed to provide more munitions to them, even from stocks, which as you know in the United States case, because of the intensity of our early campaign, we are depleting," Carter said. "We have agreed to that. That will be the second large tranche to the UAE. And it is important that everyone in the air campaign have weapons."
In the fiscal 2017 budget, the Pentagon requested $1.8 billion for precision guided munitions for use against ISIL.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.