Bahrain says ready to commit ground forces to Syria

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain is ready to commit ground troops to Syria as part of a U.-S.-led coalition against Islamic State, the Gulf island state said on Friday, a day after its larger neighbour and close ally Saudi Arabia announced a similar pledge.

Bahraini ambassador to Britain Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed al-Khalifa said in a statement that Bahrain would commit troops to operate “in concert with the Saudis” under what he called the international coalition against terrorism.

He added that the United Arab Emirates, a fellow member of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), was also ready to commit troops, echoing an assertion made late last year by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was ready to participate in any ground operations in Syria if the U.S.-led alliance decides to start such operations, an adviser to the Saudi defence minister said.

The Bahraini ambassador said the Saudi initiative in Syria was meant to combat both Islamic State and “the brutal Assad regime”, a reference to President Bashar al-Assad, a bitter foe of Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Fawaz also announced the GCC had decided to base a new unified GCC naval operations centre in Bahrain.

“The establishment of a joint (Gulf Arab) force shows clearly and unequivocally that under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states are determined to take positive action within the region and globally to combat terrorism and extremism, from whatever quarter they emanate,” he said.

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 2 to show Bahrain troops would operate under international coalition, rather than as part of a Gulf Arab command as original statement said)

Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Mark Potter and Dominic Evans