Jordanian minister blames neighbours for surging drug trade

Large quantities of illegal Captagon pills have been seized in Jordan while being smuggled from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula

A Jordanian army patrol on the border with Syria. AFP

Jordan's Interior Minister Mazen Al Faraya has blamed some neighbouring countries for lax border security, which he said is contributing to making the kingdom a major route for drug traffickers.

The problem has grown since last year, rising to the top of national security agendas in Jordan and Gulf countries.

Mr Faraya late on Sunday told parliament that “the border seepage in some of the neighbouring countries and their inability to control their border and crossing points raises the effort [burden] on the Jordanian armed forces”, state media reported.

The minister did not give further details. Jordan has borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel.

Large quantities of illegal Captagon pills have been seized in Jordan while being smuggled from war-torn Syria to the Arabian Peninsula.

Jordan shares a 362-kilometre border with Syria and maintaining a security presence on that frontier, often in remote areas requiring round-the-clock surveillance, is very costly.

ISIS remains active near some border areas with Iraq, although on a far smaller scale than in recent years after the group's near-total defeat in 2017. Complicating matters, an array of pro-Iran militias are stationed near the tri-border area.

But Iraq also has a burgeoning drug problem and is struggling to control extremely harmful synthetic drugs such as Captagon and crystal meth.

The smuggling of drugs worth billions of dollars a year has accelerated in recent months, officials in the region say. Guns are also widely available on the black market in Iraq and Syria, meaning that criminals are increasingly heavily-armed.

Mr Faraya said the state has adopted “total and new strategies” to deal with the smuggling.

"Jordan remains a transit area for the drugs and not a [production] headquarters," he said.

Concern rose in Jordan about the safety of border units after smugglers from Syria killed two of members of a patrol in an ambush last month.

Pro-government Jordanian media said the smugglers then fled to an area controlled by the Syrian army's Fourth Division, a unit led by Maher Al Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Arab security officials have pointed to the Fourth Division, as well as to pro-Iranian militias linked with Hezbollah, as main beneficiaries of the drug trade from Syria.

The Jordanian army says it killed 30 smugglers on the border with Syria in the last two months. But Jordanian officials have steered clear of outlining specifics about the identity of the smugglers, or their links inside Syria.

Jordan has been a proponent of accommodation with Mr Al Assad's regime, which was largely ostracised in the region for its violent suppression of the initially peaceful 2011 revolt against five decades of Al Assad family rule.

With encouragement from Russia, Jordan last year resumed high-level contacts with Syrian officials.

During a tour of border areas last week Col Ziad Dabbas of the Jordanian military told reporters that armed groups he would not name teamed up with the traffickers.

He said they use drones and what he described as sophisticated vehicles in their smuggling operations.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 10:57 AM