Jordan weighs options as ISIS-affiliated group nears border

By Abada Salameh in Amman


A Jordanian soldier guards the kingdom's borders. Military experts are calling for closer cross-border co-operation with Syrian opposition factions fighting the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo courtesy of the Jordanian army]

Jordanian forces have confirmed that Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid -- an extremist group affiliated with the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) -- has a presence near Syria's border with Jordan.

While Jordanian authorities decide how to proceed, military experts and analysts tell Al-Mashareq that in order to protect the kingdom's northern border, Jordan's armed forces should increase their support and co-operation with factions fighting extremist groups in neighbouring Syria.

Supporting factions fighting this group, primarily Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliate Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra, could ease the pressure on Jordan, as ISIS has repeatedly declared its intention to target the kingdom, they said.

Co-operating with Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra and other FSA affiliates can serve as an important line of defence for Jordan, they added.

"Jordan has an interest in co-operating with and supporting moderate factions such as Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra," said military analyst Maj. Gen. Fayez al-Duwairi, who is retired from the Jordanian military.

"In the past few weeks, the terrorist group Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid captured several villages in southern Syria near Jordan. The threat this army poses must be taken seriously," he told Al-Mashareq.

"The FSA-affiliated Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra has inflicted losses on Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid, and is thus playing a role in defeating the terrorist group in southern Syria," he said.

Extra caution on border

"It is in Jordan’s interest to co-operate with and support Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra and other moderate factions, especially as Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid captured artillery, weapons and ammunition that could possibly reach Jordanian territory," al-Duwairi said.

As ongoing operations against ISIS in al-Raqa and other areas in Syria intensify, the group’s elements are expected to flee to the border areas of Syria, he said.

This calls for extra caution on the Jordanian side of the border, he said.

Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid has managed to capture several villages in southern Syria through the use of sleeper cells, said Abu Bakr al-Hassan, Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra spokesman on the southern Syria front.

The group recently managed to capture 130-mm artillery pieces that have a maximum range of 27 kilometres and a limited amount of ammunition, he said in press statements in March, which poses a threat to cities in northern Jordan such as al-Ramtha and Irbid.

Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid's presence is concentrated in the tri-border area, in the villages of Ash-Shajara, Aabdyn, Ayn Thakar and Nafaah, he said, adding that it recently captured Tasil, Sahem, Adawan and Jillen.

Increased co-operation

"Jordan is co-ordinating and co-operating with some moderate forces in Syria to fight terrorist groups," said military expert Maj. Gen. Adeeb al-Sarayreh, a retired Jordanian army officer.

Jordan primarily supports Jaish Ahrar al-Ashayer (the army of free tribes) and co-operates with Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra.

"The tribal army and Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra are two of the most powerful factions in southern Syria," he told Al-Mashareq.

"It is in Jordan’s interest to increase its co-operation with these forces to ease the pressure on the Jordanian borders and form a line of defence inside Syrian territory against Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid."

Jordan does not want to send troops inside Syrian territory, "so it is important to co-operate with the FSA-affiliated Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra to stop any advance and defeat any threat by Jaish Khalid ibn al-Waleed," he said.

The kingdom is able to provide training for forces that support its interests and play a key role in the fight against terrorism, he said, as it is part of the international coalition that is fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

"Jordan is at the forefront of countries fighting terrorist groups in defence of Islam and global peace," al-Sarayreh said.

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