Role of Saudi-led ‘military alliance’ put to question as some members reject participation

© Faisal Al Nasser
The international community has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s initiative to create a coalition against terrorism. However, its “military and ideological” role has been met with confusion even among members, some of whom didn’t know they were included.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced the creation of an ‘Islamic military alliance’ with a mission to fight terrorism. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the coalition of 34 Muslim states would fight the scourge in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

The coalition members are to share intelligence, train, equip and possibly even provide forces to fight against militants such as Islamic State and al Qaeda, said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

"Nothing is off the table," he stated regarding the possibility of deploying boots on the ground.

Pakistan got to know of its participation via news

A day after Riyadh announced the formation of the coalition, some of its members said that have been caught off guard and never agreed to take part in the alliance. 

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry © Aamir Qureshi

Pakistan, one of the coalition members announced by Saudi Arabia, has denied its participation. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told journalists that he got to know of the coalition through news reports, adding that Pakistan was not consulted about it, Dawn newspaper reported on Wednesday. He added that Islamabad was seeking details about the misunderstanding.

Malaysia denies taking part

Malaysia, another Muslim country which was put by Riyadh in the list of the 34 participants, also denied taking part in the military alliance. Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told journalists that Kuala Lumpur will not join Riyadh, however it will continue to be part of the international fight against terrorism, the Rakyat Post reported.

Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein © Olivia Harris

Indonesia skeptical about ‘military alliance’

Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, said that it was approached by Saudi Arabia concerning anti-terrorism cooperation, however it needs details before considering to join a ‘military alliance.’
Armanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is “important for Indonesia to first have details before deciding to support” any military actions, he said.

However, Indonesian Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said later, as quoted by Reuters: "We don't want to join a military alliance."

 Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir © AP Archive

US wants to know more

The US, which is leading its own bombing campaign in Syria targeting IS militants, has welcomed the initiative. However, Washington seemed rather puzzled in terms of how the coalition’s operations would work.

"We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter © Carlos Barria

Russia expects details

Russia said that it expects a more detailed account from Riyadh of its initiative. “We expect to receive more detailed information from the initiators of this process as well as we would want to know more about what was discussed in Paris yesterday,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on Wednesday.

Foreign ministers from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey met in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis ahead of the talks in New York on Friday that would include Russia.

Russia has been conducting its own airstrikes targeting IS and other terrorist groups in Syria since September 30. The strikes were launched at the formal request of Damascus. The Russian-led operation also involves coordinating its efforts with regional governments, including those of Syria, Iran and Iraq, which is known as the RSII coalition.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov © Sergey Karpukhin

Turkey welcomes Riyadh-led military coalition

Ankara, the only NATO state in the alliance, has agreed to take part in the Saudi-led initiative.

“The best response to those striving to associate terrorism and Islam is for nations of Islam to present a unified voice against terrorism,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday.

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu © Umit Bektas

However Turkish role in the fight against IS has been put to question. Russia’s Defense Ministry has recently claimed that Ankara is the main consumer of oil smuggled by IS from Syria and Iraq, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are involved in the criminal business.

READ MORE: Russia says Turkey’s Erdogan & family involved in illegal ISIS oil trade

Meanwhile, Turkish MP Eren Erdem has told RT that IS terrorists in Syria received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey.

Washington has been urging Ankara to secure its Syrian border, which has been partially in the control of IS on the Syrian side. However Turkey has expressed skepticism, saying that it would be extremely difficult. 

Iran, Iraq, Syria not invited by Saudi to the block

Despite Riyadh’s initiative to possibly involve the alliance’s ground troops in the fight against IS, Iraq and Syria have not been invited to the bloc.

Iraq said it was confused by the role of the alliance in the fight against terrorism in the region.

“This makes it very confusing for us. Who will be the one leading the fight against terrorism in the region?” asked Nasser Nouri, spokesman for Iraq’s defense ministry, as quoted by the Wall Street journal on Tuesday. “Will it be the larger international coalition, and if so, what will be the point of having this new alliance.”