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UAE says ready to commit troops to fight IS in Syria

The UAE, with a fighting force of about 65,000, says it will "participate in any international effort demanding a ground intervention"
UAE troops in a joint training exercise with the French in the desert in Abu Dhabi (AFP)
 
The United Arab Emirates has said it is ready to commit ground troops against militants in Syria and described Russian air strikes in the country as attacks on a "common enemy".
 
Quoted by the official WAM news agency on Monday, Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the UAE would "participate in any international effort demanding a ground intervention to fight terrorism".
 
"Regional countries must bear part of the burden" of such an intervention, he said during a Sunday discussion on Syria.
 
The UAE is a member of the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in territory under its control in Syria and Iraq. It has traditionally been one of the fiercest critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been accused of funding a number of anti-Assad groups.  
 
The UAE has a fighting force of around 65,000 people, although many of these are not UAE nationals, with soldiers from countries such as Pakistan also serving. 
 
As the militants have held out against more than a year of strikes and launched operations abroad including the 13 November attacks in Paris, there have been growing calls for the anti-IS intervention to expand to a ground force.
 
Russia launched its own strikes in Syria in late September and Iran has reportedly sent hundreds of troops to support President Bashar al-Assad and his government. 
 
Critics - including in the West and Sunni Arab Gulf nations - have accused Russia of targeting moderate rebel forces as well as militants. 
 
In the UAE's first official reaction to the Russian strikes, Gargash said "we agree that nobody will be upset by the Russian bombardment of Daesh or al-Qaeda as it targets a common enemy." Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS. 
 
Gargash also suggested the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen - which has seen Arab countries including the UAE send ground troops against Iran-backed rebels - could be "an alternative model" to Western intervention in the region. 
 
"The global strategy to fight terrorism is no longer fruitful or enough," he said.
 
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and a collection of other mainly Arab states, has been bombing Yemen since March in an attempt to drive back forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis. In August they sent at least 3,000 troops to fight on the ground. The exact number of those killed has not been made official, but the Houthis are known to have killed dozens of UAE troops. 
 
On Sunday, US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for 100,000 foreign soldiers, most from Sunni regional states but also including Americans, to fight IS in Syria.