Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to send combat troops to protect the kingdom

Pakistan is in discussions with Saudi Arabia to send combat troops to protect the kingdom amid growing concern over threats from ISIL militants and Houthi rebels.

Plans are under way to dispatch a brigade-sized deployment following a request from Riyadh, which wants the troops as an emergency response force. A brigade is usually made up of between 1,500 and 3,500 troops.

Islamabad and Saudi Arabia have long had a close military and security relationship,

with troops from Pakistan’s large and combat-hardened army regularly deployed for training Saudi soldiers. Although the kingdom, like other Arab Gulf countries, does not make the numbers public, experts say there are as many as 70,000 Pakistanis serving across the Saudi military services at any one time.

But requests for Pakistani combat brigades have usually only been made during times of heightened tensions in the kingdom.

Pakistani combat troops were sent after the 1979 attack on the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca by a proto-Al Qaeda extremist group and the Iranian revolution of the same year.

Forces from Pakistan were based in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War when the kingdom feared attack by Saddam Hussein.

Again, a decade ago, they were deployed as the US military ramped up operations to crush Al Qaeda in Iraq, prompting fears that the extremists would flee across the Saudi border, and as the militant group carried out a violent terrorist campaign within the kingdom.

A senior Pakistani military source confirmed the Saudi request, but stressed troops would “not go across the border” with Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military coalition, of which the UAE is part, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement.

Instead, the source said troops would be kept on standby in case of any major internal security threat or terrorist incident.

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The deployment – which another Pakistani source claimed was still at the planning stage – comes at a sensitive time in Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Islamabad.