Arab leaders give the nod for joint military force

Move aims to provide effective counter to threat posed by rise of extremist militants.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi addressed the closing session of the Arab League summit in Sharm El Sheikh on March 29, 2015, at which  leaders announced their approval for a joint Arab military force.  Khaled Elfiqi / EPA
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi addressed the closing session of the Arab League summit in Sharm El Sheikh on March 29, 2015, at which leaders announced their approval for a joint Arab military force. Khaled Elfiqi / EPA

Sharm El Sheikh // Arab leaders agreed on Sunday to form a joint military force after a summit dominated by a Saudi-led offensive on Houthi rebels in Yemen and the threat posed by extremist militants.

Representatives will meet over the next month to study the creation of the force and present their findings to defence ministers within four months, according to the resolution adopted by the leaders.

“Assuming the great responsibility imposed by the great challenges facing our Arab nation and threatening its capabilities, the Arab leaders had decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force,” the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi told the summit in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh.

The agreement comes days after Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab countries in launching airstrikes in Yemen to dislodge Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have taken over much of its southern neighbour.

However, there has been no decision yet on whether to send ground troops into Yemen, the Saudi ambassador to the United States said on Sunday.

Adel Al Jubeir told the NBC and CBS television channels that Saudi Arabia was committed to completing the air campaign.

“I don’t know that anyone wants to go into Yemen but we don’t rule anything out,” Mr Al Jubeir said when asked about the possible use of ground troops. “Right now the objective is being achieved through an air campaign.”

Ahead of the Sharm El Sheikh summit, the Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi had said the move to create a joint force was aimed mainly at fighting extremists who have overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria and secured a foothold in Libya.

On Sunday, he told the meeting the region faced a “destructive” force that threatened “ethnic and religious diversity”, in an apparent reference to the extremist group ISIL. The leaders’ agreement to set up a joint force was “an important decision, in light of the tumult afflicting the Arab world”, Mr Al Arabi said.

Egypt had pushed for the creation of the rapid response force to fight militants, and the matter gained urgency this week after Saudi Arabia and Arab allies launched airstrikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Mr Al Arabi, reading a statement at the conclusion of the summit, said the offensive would continue until the Houthis withdrew from regions they have overrun and surrender their weapons.

Several Arab states including Egypt are taking part in the military campaign, which Saudi King Salman said on Saturday would continue until the Yemeni people “enjoy security”.

The Yemeni president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, said at the start of the summit that the offensive should end only when the Houthis surrender, and called the rebel leader an Iranian “puppet”.

However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged the leaders to find a peaceful resolution in Yemen.

“It is my fervent hope that at this Arab League summit, leaders will lay down clear guidelines to peacefully resolve the crisis in Yemen,” he said.

Mr El Sisi said in a recent interview that the proposal for a joint force was welcomed especially by Jordan, which might take part alongside Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.

Aaron Reese, deputy research director at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said each of these countries would bring a different capability.

“The Jordanians are well known for their special forces capability ... the Egyptians of course have the most manpower and bases close to Libya.”

Cairo had sought UN backing for intervention in Libya, dismissing attempted peace talks between the rival governments in its violence-plagued neighbour as ineffective.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting from Reuters

Published: March 29, 2015 04:00 AM

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