BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has secured renewed pledges of more airstrikes and special operations forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the fight against the Islamic State, further raising the Arab profile in the U.S.-led effort.
The two countries promised to restart now-stalled air campaigns against the Islamic State, according to Carter, and will be sending special operation forces into Syria to assist local fighters on the ground at the tactical level. Carter would not specify when the extra troops would arrive, and the Arab allies did specify any numbers.
There is currently a small contingent of U.S. special operations forces on the ground advising local forces in northern Syria, though it is also unclear if the Saudi and UAE forces would be working them.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the leading Arab backers of rebel forces seeking to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have made recent gains with aid from Russian airstrikes. It was not clear whether their pledge to boost their roles in the Islamic State fight will also include parallel assistance to Syrian opposition groups.
At the same time, the UAE is involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen seeking to restore an ousted leader friendly to Riyadh.
Carter also noted that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE play “an important role in countering the message” of the Islamic State.
“If you look at the non-military aspects of the campaign and the moral dimension of it, the UAE plays an outsized role … and we talked about them working with Saudis in that regard,” Carter told reporters. “Of course that’s not something the United States can do.”
After a series of meetings earlier in the week, nearly all of the 28 countries participating in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State pledged a broad range of additional assets after the United States called for more contributions in the almost two-year old war against the extremist group. Carter called the meeting “successful.”
Carter also highlighted that the United States will be sending additional munitions to the UAE to help their upcoming airstrikes.
“It’s important that everybody in the air campaign have weapons,” Cater said.
While the UAE has had issues keeping its stocks of bombs and missiles at adequate levels, the United States has had issues of its own. The recently debuted budget for the upcoming year includes a large portion dedicated to renewing the U.S. stocks of precision guided munitions.
On Thursday, the United States and Russia negotiated a possible cease-fire in Syria in the coming week. Carter noted, however, there will be no cease-fire in the war against the Islamic State.