PM, army chief witness 'Thunder of the North' military exercises in Saudi Arabia

Published: March 10, 2016
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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif being recieved by Saudi Defence Minister Prince Muhammad Bin Saleman at the venue of North Thunder Joint Military Excercise at Hafar ul Batin, Saudia Arabia on March 10, 2016. PHOTO: PID

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif being recieved by Saudi Defence Minister Prince Muhammad Bin Saleman at the venue of North Thunder Joint Military Excercise at Hafar ul Batin, Saudia Arabia on March 10, 2016. PHOTO: PID

Warplanes roared overhead, tanks rumbled across the desert and smoke filled the sky for the final day of what Saudi Arabia billed as the region’s biggest-ever military exercises.

According to the ISPR, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif along with the top Saudi leadership witnessed the concluding ceremony of ‘Thunder of the North’ military exercises on Thursday.

“Premier and army chief with Saudi leadership and other dignitaries on site of the North Thunder final manoeuvres,” DG ISPR Lt gen Asim Bajwa said in a statement.

The 12-day “Northern Thunder” manoeuvres in the kingdom’s northeast included 20 nations from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Saudi officials said.

General Raheel also met the Saudi defence minister, and discussed bilateral relations.

Later in the evening, PM Nawaz met Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud at Royal palace of King Khalid military city, Saudi Arabia.

He was accompanied by army chief and adviser on foreign affairs.

The prime minister and COAS reached Riyadh on Wednesday to witness the military exercises as well as hold talks on the regional and bilateral issues.

PM, army chief arrive in Saudi Arabia

They were received at the King Saud Airport by the Prince Muhammad bin Salman and other high-ranking officials. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi also accompanied the top leadership to Riyadh.

As the dignitaries watched from a pavilion, Apache gunships fired rockets with a bone-shaking blast. Smoke rose from targets on the ground and commandos rappelled from helicopters.

Fighter jets streaked through the sky releasing orange flares, artillery shells whistled through the air and heavy machinegun fire boomed from across the drill site, which stretched for dozens of kilometres.

The exercises took place near Hafr al-Batin city, close to the Kuwaiti and Iraq borders.

Saudi Arabia’s chief of staff, General Abdulrahman al-Bunyan, commanded the exercise and called it “the largest Arab and Islamic military gathering” in the region.

Islamabad to extend military cooperation with Riyadh

Riyadh has adopted a more assertive foreign policy since Salman took the throne early last year following the death of his half-brother king Abdullah.

It leads a coalition fighting rebels in Yemen, participates in US-led air strikes against the Islamic State group and has offered to send special forces to fight IS in Syria.

“Northern Thunder” also took place after tensions escalated between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and its regional Shia rival Iran, which back opposing sides in Syria and Yemen.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a group photo with Heads/ Majesties of the participating country in North Thunder Joint Military Excercise at Hafar Ul Batin, Saudi Arabia on March 10th 2016. PHOTO: PID

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran earlier this year after mobs ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told reporters this week the exercises were preparation to tackle the region’s “terrorist menace” and were not directed against Iran.

Assiri said the manoeuvres are distinct from a 35-nation coalition to fight “terrorism” which Saudi Arabia announced in December.

Officials have said the new coalition would gather in the kingdom this month for its first publicly announced meeting.

A foreign military source told AFP he did not think Northern Thunder was directed at Syria “or anything else” but was a chance to practise working together.

The source said Saudi troops were “honing their skills and their operability with other nations.”

Northern Thunder’s official Twitter account said the exercises aimed to “confront all the threat scenarios in the region”.

According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Saudi Arabia has the best equipped military of Gulf countries, with an army of 75,000 troops and 313 combat-capable aircraft.

Reader Comments (6)

  • kashif
    Mar 10, 2016 - 10:36PM

    It is hard to believe that this coalition is not against Iran or any other Muslim country under the circumstances when KSA is already bombing innocent Yameni Muslims. It could have been better if Pakistan had not taken part in this coalition, keeping in view its current state of affairs (continuing decade long civil war in the tribal region and economic and strategic importance of its southern neighbour, Islamic republic of Iran).Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Mar 11, 2016 - 7:09AM

    @kashif:
    To even things out, Pakistan should suggest to Iran to have joint exercises of a similar nature and to even go beyond that such as missile and drone testings. Then, everyone is happy.Recommend

  • abdulrehman
    Mar 11, 2016 - 3:48PM

    I AM PROUD OF BING PAKISTANI GENERAL RAHEEL THAT HE WILL BE CHIEF OF NORTH THUNDER FORCE.Recommend

  • Farooq abbasi
    Mar 12, 2016 - 4:24PM

    In these circumstances I am feeling pleasure on arrival of presedent of iran and hope for best relation with iran..Recommend

  • Asim
    Mar 21, 2016 - 1:59AM

    @abdulrehman:
    This is shameful. We do not need to be involved in such Saudi lead exercises or Saudli lead coalitionsRecommend

  • Asim
    Mar 21, 2016 - 1:59AM

    @abdulrehman:
    This is shameful. We do not need to be involved in such Saudi lead exercises or Saudli lead coalitionsRecommend

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