October 12, 2012

Disinformation Fogs U.S.-Jordanian Troop Movements

On the sidelines of Wednesday's meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta generated minor headlines by publicizing the deployment of U.S. Special Forces to Jordan. Primarily tasked to assist in the response of any chemical emergency in Syria, Panetta told reporters that Washington and Amman are similarly coordinating a response to the area's humanitarian crisis. Special Forces have been moving across the border for months, or presumably longer, to gain situational intelligence.

“We’ve also been working with [Jordan] to try to develop their own military and operational capabilities in the event of any contingency there,” Panetta said.

His relative frankness can be appreciated for a brief moment. In response to NATO's events, the Jordanian government quickly issued a denial through Jordan News Agency (Petra) and claimed that the Jordanian Armed Forces "is capable of confronting any future threats that may arise without outside assistance." A separate statement from the JAF added that all international military personnel on Jordanian soil are participating in unrelated joint-training exercises. Why the Jordanian government decided on this course isn't fully explainable. The two governments have held joint exercises since May, nicknamed the "Eager Lion," to develop reactive strategies in the event of a chemical weapons attack inside or outside of Syria. 

Naturally the King and his forces are leery of appearing more pro-American than they are already perceived, and would like to keep their public space at a manageable level. Their current denial, though, is only reinforcing the negative image that they want to dispel. The JAF's statements are attributed to a New York Times report of Panetta's press conference, not the high-profile media session itself. There's nowhere to run except into shadow.

“We’ve also been working with [Jordan] to try to develop their own military and operational capabilities in the event of any contingency there,” Panetta explained. "We have a group of our forces there, working to help them build a headquarters and to ensure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so we can deal with all of the possible consequences."

This headquarters goes by the name of King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, where roughly 150 U.S. Special Forces are working overtime to train Jordanian commandoes. The 16 square-mile bunker complex is hard to miss if you can get close enough - it also has its own website - and judging its activities isn't exceedingly difficult. The base functions as one of Jordan's largest Special Forces schools, making it an ideal launch pad for American and British Special Forces (and intelligence agents). Again, Jordanian officials concede that a variety of operations are being developed with Western "specialists," while denying the presence of US “boots on the ground." The latter information is simply false, as the majority of American personnel are reportedly drawn from the U.S. Army's network: Delta Force and Rangers.

Both of these forces wear boots when walking on the ground. They are equally proficient in combat and training, and are only limited by their controllers in Washington. Although currently providing "technical and logistical support” to secure the Jordanian-Syrian border, they can and will spearhead any military contingency that is being rehearsed with Jordanian forces. Amman and Washington are "currently exploring the possibility of establishing a 'buffer-zone' along the border region," a move that would require significant U.S. assistance.

Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah, the only official who spoke on the record, said the U.S. presence was part of "routine training exercises." He denied any involvement in Syria's planning; Panetta and other Jordanian officials say that blueprints are being developed at this moment.

As jarring as this disinformation may be, one can understand Amman's plight and the caution exercised over the presence of Western military advisers. Jordan remains involved in the diplomatic attempt to remove al-Assad from Syria's presidential office, and must attempt to remain in a defensive position for as long as possible. The Jordanian government also suspects al-Assad's regime of maintaining sleeper cells in the country and hopes to avoid the blowback of any Western-Gulf actions. Except al-Assad's regime isn't so incompetent that it will be deceived by U.S. cooperation, leaving the American and Jordanian publics as the main targets of disinformation. The fact that Jordan is experiencing its own unrest cannot be ignored either (not that the Kingdom's security forces need help crushing a revolution), and the state is integral to the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) expansion plans (whose strings are pulled by Riyadh).

These wider factors demonstrate that the true nature of U.S. policy in Jordan is hegemonic, not humanitarian.

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