Saudi Arabia has commenced a massive military drill in which 20 nations are participating. The move comes amid ongoing deadly conflicts in the Middle East.
More than 2,500 warplanes, 20,000 tanks and 450 helicopters will be part of the exercise. Riyadh has billed the manoeuvre as "the largest and most important" drill ever staged in the region.
Up to 350,000 troops from various Gulf nations, and other allies such as Pakistan, Jordan, Chad and Sudan will take part in the drill, the Saudi Press Agency said. The exercises would involve ground, naval and air forces personnel.
Termed "The Northern Thunder", the drill will continue for 18 days. The aim of the exercise is to send the message that Saudi Arabia and its allies "stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region". Neither the US nor any Western nation is part of the event.
"It will serve to boost fighting capabilities, exchange information, benefit from experiences and expertise and enhance coordination between the participating countries," said Saudi Arabia's Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri.
Riyadh, an oil powerhouse in the region, has been dramatically increasing its military offensive in the conflict zone in recent years. The Sunni kingdom has pounded Houthi rebels in Yemen – who are allegedly backed by Riyadh's regional rival, Iran. In a surprise announcement, Riyadh said the kingdom is deploying warplanes in Turkey as well, to step up its efforts against Islamic State (Isis) militants.
"The Saudi kingdom now has a presence at the İncirlik base in Turkey. Saudi warplanes are present with their crews to intensify aerial operations along with missions launched from bases in Saudi Arabia," Al Assiri earlier told the pan-Arab Al Arabiya television before the start of the military drill.
Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have also lobbied for a ground operation in Syria to uproot President Bashar al-Assad's regime. In return, Damascus has also warned any incursion into Syrian territories will have serious repercussions in the entire region.