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UAE ready to send ground troops into Syria to combat IS

UAE foreign minister says Emirates, like Saudi, ready to send in troops to Syria, but intervention should be US-led
Syrian pro-government forces looks at smoke billowing from an Islamic State position near Aleppo last month (AFP)

An international campaign against the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria should include a US-led ground intervention, the United Arab Emirates' state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Sunday.

"Our position throughout is that a real campaign against Daesh [an alternative term for the Islamic State group] has to include ground elements," Gargash told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

"We are not talking about thousands of troops, but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way," he said. "And of course, an American leadership in this effort is a prerequisite."

Gargash's comments come after Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that it was prepared to send ground troops into Syria to join a US-led coalition against IS amid Russian claims that Turkey is ready to invade Syria, allegations which Ankara has dismissed.

It also comes as thousands of Syrians are heading towards the Turkish border, fleeing a Syrian government offensive - backed by Russian air power - around Aleppo. An activist told Al Jazeera on Sunday that locals are preparing for Aleppo - which has been under partial rebel control since 2012 - to be besieged by the government and captured.

The Saudi proposal was welcomed by the United States, but it was ridiculed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and key ally Iran.

The Saudis "have made such a claim, but I don't think they are brave enough to do so ... Even if they send troops, they would be definitely defeated ... it would be suicide,” Iran's Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said.

The United States has for weeks been calling on partners in the 65-member coalition bombing the IS group in Iraq and Syria to contribute more.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who last month chastised some countries for doing "nothing at all," is meeting this week in Brussels with defence officials from Saudi Arabia and other coalition members to outline the next steps in the anti-IS campaign.

Gargash said on Sunday that his country has been "frustrated at the slow pace of confronting Daesh," which controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

"We have always said that there are two things lacking - a genuine political process in Baghdad that ... [would] encompass the Sunnis and a ground presence for the operations against Daesh."

An Iraqi tribal leader told AFP on Wednesday that Sunnis must be given a greater role in the political process of the war-torn country, where the government is led by Shias, in order to prevent the possible rise of organisations even more extreme than IS.

Some analysts expressed scepticism that Saudi or the UAE would commit to a ground invasion of Syria:

“I shudder to think about how some hastily assembled, ill-trained, agenda-driven, incompetent Arab expeditionary force would perform,” analyst Aaron David Miller told Newsweek. “And the last thing you’d want to see is ISIS [Islamic State] victorious against Sunnis backed by the West.”

Miller also pointed out that there is a lack of resources being sent to opposition groups in Syria by their regional allies.

“The fact is the Arab states and Turkey should support the Syrian opposition against ISIS on the ground [but] they don’t," he said.

Another former US diplomat told Newsweek that the Saudi military was too "heavily committed in Yemen" to be able to effectively commit to another operation in Syria.