Defense secretary welcomes Saudi offer of ground troops in Syria

Defense secretary welcomes Saudi offer of ground troops in Syria
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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter welcomed late Thursday Saudi Arabia's reported offer to send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"That kind of news is very welcome," Carter said during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. 

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"It'll be easier to sustain the defeat, and it'll be also easier to accomplish all the non-military aspects of the defeat if other countries that are part of the coalition accelerate their efforts at the same time," he said. 

A Saudi military spokesman earlier Thursday said the kingdom is ready to send in ground troops if other members of a U.S.-led coalition against ISIS agree during its meeting next week in Brussels, The Associated Press reported

Carter said he looked forward to discussing "that kind" of contribution with Saudi Arabia, as well as 25 other nations, in Brussels. 

"The reason why I'm going to Brussels next week is to bring the full weight of the coalition behind accelerating the defeat of ISIL," he said, using another acronym for ISIS. 

Carter has asked Western and regional allies to step up their contributions to the fight against ISIS as he looks to ramp up U.S. efforts to defeat the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. 

The U.S. has conducted the lion's share of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and has committed more than 3,600 troops in Iraq and about 50 in Syria. 

Carter said he looked forward to discussing "other kinds" of contributions that Saudi Arabia can make. 

"Saudi Arabia's indicated a willingness to take the lead in marshaling some Muslim majority countries," he added.  

The U.S. has tried to refrain from a direct combat role in Iraq and Syria, instead relying on the Iraqi government and regional partners to defeat ISIS. Officials argue that the U.S. military could quickly defeat ISIS but can't hold the territory afterwards and needs local partners to take the lead in the fight and sustain the peace afterwards. 

"It's going to be the local population in Syria and Iraq that's going to sustain the defeat of ISIL, and the Saudis indicated that they and other countries would be best positioned to help make those arrangements," he said. 

Saudi Arabia's announcement comes a day after United Nations-led peace talks for the Syrian civil war were suspended for three weeks.

The U.S. is backing opposition rebels who are fighting against ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria, while Iran and Russia are backing the Assad regime. 

U.S. officials last month acknowledged that Russia's air campaign to shore up the Syrian dictator is helping to stabilize the regime.