The global war against radical Islam has gained an important partner. On 15 December, Saudi Arabia announced a plan to organize a 34 nation coalition to fight against radical Islam and global terrorism. It is important to note the 34 member coalition organized by Saudi Arabia consists of nations with a predominately Muslim populace. The Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated this coalition’s focus will be on efforts combating radical Islamists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have yet to formally agree to join the alliance, and Iran, a Shiite-centric nation was not asked to join the coalition.
The Saudi’s have been engaged in combat operations in Yemen, targeting rebel Houthi forces who are supported by Iran. The operations in Yemen have largely been air strikes, with limited ground operations against the rebels. Saudi Arabian Special Forces fought alongside Yemen security forces in the Battle of Aden, driving the Houthi rebels out of the coastal city. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen currently consists of nine Arab states and Yemen security forces.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors have come under considerable scrutiny in recent months regarding the current campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Jordan and Morocco have committed to targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, whereas other Arab states have very limited forces targeting ISIS in Syria. Turkey has committed to targeting ISIS ground forces along its southern border, but has largely only targeted Kurdish militants who are fighting ISIS. No Western power has formally agreed to send conventional ground troops to combat ISIS, although special operation forces and military advisors are assisting Iraqi security forces.
Should the Saudi-led coalition actually commit to waging war against ISIS, it could be a considerable shift in the current military operations. The Arab states are the most threatened by ISIS, whether in the Middle East or North Africa. The Kurds have been conducting successful operations against ISIS, but lack the necessary manpower and weaponry to overwhelm the terrorist organization. The numbers vary regarding the current strength of ISIS militant forces, with the US claiming they only possess 20-31,000 militants, whereas the Kurds who are actually conducting the ground war put that number well over 100,000. An Arab/Muslim-led coalition could overwhelm ISIS without the need of western ground forces in the fight. Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia possess the largest armies of the 34-nation coalition. These nations also possess modern, western-produced armament that would be useful in combating ISIS. Whether this Saudi-led coalition actually pulls the trigger in combating ISIS and radical Islamists is the real question.