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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Pakistan agrees to send troops to Saudi Arabia

Army says the soldiers will be on a 'training and advise mission' and will not be deployed outside the kingdom

Pakistan is sending troops to ally Saudi Arabia on a "training and advise mission", the military said, three years after it decided against sending soldiers to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

The exact role the troops will play was unclear, but a statement from the army's press wing on Thursday stressed they "will not be employed outside" the kingdom.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said the announcement followed a meeting between Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al Maliki, and Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa earlier on Thursday at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Gen Bajwa and Mr Al Maliki discussed matters of "mutual interest", including the regional security situation, the military's Inter-Services Public Relations agency said.

Pakistan's retired army chief, General Raheel Sharif, commands the new Saudi-led Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, though it was not immediately clear whether the new troops would participate in that coalition.

Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops for the Saudi-led military coalition's campaign against Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. But Pakistan's parliament voted to remain neutral, in part because the country shares a border with Iran and has a sizeable Shiite minority.

Pakistani military analyst retired Brigadier Shaukat Qadir said talks involving sending troops to Saudi Arabia had been ongoing for some time.

"Now, apparently, for whatever reason, the decision has been taken," he said.

There are already about 750-800 Pakistani servicemen in Saudi Arabia, in part to guard Islamic holy sites, but they are not combat troops.

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