The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is witnessing, during the next few hours, the arrival of troops participating in the largest and most important military maneuver in the history of the region called Northern Thunder (Ra’ad Al-Shamal).
Military forces from 20 Arab nations are gathering at King Khalid Military City in Hafr Al-Batin, near the Kuwaiti border to participate in the exercise, one of the largest of its kind in terms of the number of countries with the participation of 20 Arab, Islamic and friendly countries, including: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Senegal, Sudan, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Comoros, Djibouti, Oman, Qatar, Malaysia, Egypt, Mauritania, Mauritius, in addition to the Peninsula shield forces.
Northern Thunder is the largest military exercise of its kind in terms of the number of participating countries and qualitative military equipment of diverse sophisticated weapons and military equipment, including fighter jets from different models reflecting the large quantitative and qualitative spectrum being enjoyed by these forces, as well as the participation of a wide range of artillery, tanks, infantry, air defense systems and naval forces, in a simulation of the highest level of maximum alert of the armies of the 20 participating countries.
The exercise represents broad support from Arab nations to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that has been involved in recent months in a number of conflicts, namely Yemen and Syria, as well as an open challenge to Iran.
Saudi Arabia is sending planes to the İncirlik Air Base in the southern Turkish province of Adana, where jets from the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition are already based, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has stated, amid reports on Feb. 14 that the jets have already arrived.
Saudi Arabia has deployed F-15E strike fighters to the Turkish airbase at Incirlik, a forward base hosting US lead coalition air forces operating against Daesh in Northern Syria.
According to Turkish sources the Saudi planes are expected there within 2-3 weeks. The Saudi deployment is part of a larger plan that could involve operations against Daesh that will require cross-border ground maneuvers into Syria.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also told reporters on Feb. 14 that his country was ready to send special forces to Syria to take part in ground operations against ISIL, without giving further details.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long advocated in favor of a ground operation in Syria but no concrete decision has been taken for such an operation.
Riyadh and Ankara are both opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose foreign minister last week warned that any ground intervention would “amount to aggression that must be resisted.”
Al-Assiri said the decision to deploy an unspecified number of jets to Turkey followed a meeting in Brussels of U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition members, who decided step up their fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq. He stressed that Saudi Arabia made its decision in coordination with the coalition and a ground operation was being planned.
“There is a consensus among coalition forces on the need for ground operations and the Kingdom is committed to that,” al-Assiri said.
“Military experts will meet in the coming days to finalize the details, the task force and the role to be played by each country,” he added.