Monday, February 15, 2016

Saudi Arabia to base troops in Turkey to invade Syria

Late last night as I watched the snow falling, I saw this headline posted on Facebook;

"Saudi Arabia Sends Troops and Fighter Jets to Military Base in Turkey Ahead-of Intervention"

For the first time, Saudi Arabia will base troops out of Incirlik AB in Turkey.  The US and Coalition Forces have been staging out of there since Desert Storm but this is the first time Saudi forces will be based there.  The article goes on the say that Saudi Arabia basically intends to remove Assad from power.  That is a rather chilling development and one brought with much peril for the entire region.

To understand a little better that implications of Saudi Arabia's intent, we need to understand the history of Prince Sultan AB (PSAB) and Al Udeid AB (in Qatar).  After Desert Storm, the Saudis were very concerned about Saddam Hussein and agreed to allow US forces to fly defensive missions out of PSAB for Operation Southern Watch (interestingly, Operation Northern Watch was flown out of Incirlik AB).  The presence of US Air Force and other flying units grew at PSAB over the years following Desert Storm.  But the Saudis always put tight limitations on how much the US forces could expand and what types of missions could be flown from PSAB.

When 9/11 happened, forces were being built up at PSAB to launch attacks against Iraq.  However, the Saudis balked at this change in missions, going from defensive to offensive strikes.  As a result, the US went looking for another home and Qatar offered up Al Udeid (along with Al Saliyah).  Unlike PSAB, the US and Coalition Forces could launch any type of mission they wanted.  Further, Qatar gave the US practically a blank check to build as much as they wanted (in 2004, Qatar offered to build Gen Paetreaus a brand new $38 million state of the art headquarters building at Al Saliyah if he would relocated CENTCOM there).

The CENTAF and the other coalition partners moved their operations from PSAB to Al Udeid and we have been flying out of there ever since.  So why did Qatar show so much love?  Quite simply, Qatar is a small nation on a thumb of a peninsula in the Persian Gulf.  While Qatar is an extremely wealthy nation, it has no real military to speak.  Qatar was always worried that if Saudi Arabia ever decided to invade there wasn't really much they could do about it.  I remember asking a senior Qatari pilot what aircraft they were getting to replace they Mirage fighters they had just sent back to France.  He just laughed and said, "What do we need an air force for?  We have the greatest air force in the world parked right out there!"  It hit me like a sledgehammer, we were their insure against any aggression.

Oh but you see, Saudi Arabia has been want to NOT get directly involved.   But then in August 2015, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in response to the civil war.  Taking a page out of Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia did not go it alone as fighter aircraft from Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Qatar all flew missions.  Somalia even allowed the use of their airspace.

Now Saudi Arabia is getting ready to invade Syria and thus far Washington has been silent.  A more aggressive Saudi Arabia may not be the best thing, especially if they intend to remove Assad with no plan as to who is going to replace him.  Let's not forget that the opposition to Assad is what gave birth to ISIL/ISIS/Daesh.  Picking the right person with the right network of support to replace Assad is fraught with peril not only for the people of Syria but the region as well.

We should also be cautious of any Saudi/Turkish partnership.  As I've already written about, the Turks want to control the Anatolia water project so getting a Syrian government that's on board with that project is in their best interest.  With Saudi Arabia now becoming a more aggressive presence in the region, one has to wonder what the Iranian/Russian response will likely be.

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