Thursday, March 17, 2016

So Who is the Target?

Saudi-hosted military exercises are billed as anti-terrorist training, but this is clearly force-on-force ground combat training. Who is the target?

The Saudis wrapped up an unusual--for the Saudis--military exercise:

Warplanes roared overhead, tanks rumbled across the desert and smoke filled the sky Thursday for the final day of what Saudi Arabia billed as the region's biggest-ever military exercises.

The 12-day "Northern Thunder" manoeuvres in the kingdom's northeast included 20 nations from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Saudi officials said.

This is training for combat against conventional enemy forces trying to control terrain.

Iran is the obvious potential enemy. But that would require Iran to move troops into Iraq, turn left, and march into Kuwait and perhaps beyond.

Yemen is a potential target, but the Saudi-led coalition seems to be doing well enough with a small core mobile force in support of local allies.

Libya is a potential target, if the Egyptians want ground allies before committing their own troops to an anti-ISIL fight to unify Libya.

Even Israel is a potential target, in theory. But in practice that is laughable.

And of course, ISIL in Iraq is a potential target. But Iraq--under Iranian pressure--doesn't want Saudis involved. So I don't see these troops helping with an offensive to liberate Mosul.

Would this Saudi coalition base out of Turkey to bolster a Turkish buffer zone in support of rebels in northwestern Syria?

Would this Saudi coalition base out of Jordan to support Southern Front rebels in Syria across the border?

Or from Jordan, lead an offensive into western Anbar province with the Jordanians in the lead to mask the Saudi role to liberate the largely Sunni Arab region from ISIL as Iraqi forces push west from central Iraq?

To be fair, any of those potential theaters would be north, latitude-wise, of the training site.

UPDATE: Apparently we can rule out Yemen, because Saudi Arabia has announced the end of major combat operations:

In an interview on Wednesday, [Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri] told AFP that "we are in the end of the major combat phase," to be followed by the creation of a stable security situation, then reconstruction.

I guess they figure that they've helped their allies take enough land that major offensives are no longer needed.

We'll see. Perhaps the Saudi-led coalition has gained enough ground to cut some deals with enough people to reach this point.