US conducts exercises with Jordan amid concern over Syrian border security

American official in Amman to discuss aid extension

US troops on a joint military exercise in Jordan.
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Jordan and the US have launched joint exercises covering border security alongside other allied militaries, the Jordanian armed forces said.

The kingdom is in the midst of an effort to bolster border defences, countering the challenge of Captagon smuggling from Syria, which has been linked to pro-Iranian militias in the region.

The “Ready Lion” exercises on Sunday came as a US State Department official visited Amman to discuss details of US aid to the kingdom. The aid was renewed for seven years in 2021, remaining steady at an annual $1.45 billion.

Jordanian army spokesman Mustafa Al Hiyari said 4,000 troops from Jordan, the US and more than 20 “friendly” countries are taking part of the in the 11-day manoeuvres.

“The border is under control and is stable. The nature of the threats in the field requires alliances,” he said.

Jordan and the US signed a military pact last year that committed the kingdom to provide more logistical and other support for 3,000 US troops in the country.

Jordanian authorities say that security forces have been stepping up operations to curb lawlessness in regions on the border of Syria, accusing pro-Iranian militias of playing a central role in Captagon trafficking.

Arab security officials say the smuggling, mainly from government-held areas of Syria to Jordan and then to the Arabian Peninsula, is worth several billion dollars a year and has become a major source of financing for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group supported by Iran.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in the drugs trade. The US Treasury has placed sanctions on Hassan Muhammad Daqou, who is accused of being a key figure in regional drug smuggling networks, accusing him of coordinating with Hezbollah — which the US also says has profited from drug smuggling.

Regional alliances

Although Jordan is staunch US ally and depends on aid from Washington to boost meagre revenue, the kingdom has embarked on several foreign policy initiatives without apparent US support in the last three years.

Chief among them has been normalising ties with the Bashar Al Assad government. Jordan has also not criticised the Russian invasion of Ukraine and endorsed the Russian intervention in Syria in support of the regime.

Until recently, Jordan has refrained from any direct criticism of Hezbollah or its sponsor Iran, despite indicating a rise in drug flows across its borders over the last three years.

But last month Jordan’s King Abdullah II criticised what he called “Iranian interference” and said Jordan is “facing regular attacks on our borders by militias linked to Iran”.

A Jordanian army statement said the exercises will be covering “scenarios that mimic probable threats and challenges emanating from the regional environment”.

Washington is also Jordan’s biggest donor.

Liz Allen, senior official for public diplomacy and public affairs the State Department, arrived in Amman at the weekend and met Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said Ms Allen and Mr Al Safadi discussed a seven-year, $10.15bn aid package announced by President Joe Biden after he met King Abdullah in Washington in July.

The United States has provided Jordan with $20bn in aid since 1951. A significant proportion was spent on the Jordanian military, as well as on civil projects, such as an irrigation canal in the Jordan valley.

Since the Syrian conflict in 2011 the US has also donated at least $1.7bn in aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan, including aid for Jordanian towns and cities where the refugees live.

Updated: September 04, 2022, 2:28 PM