US, Jordan boost security via large-scale drills

By Noor al-Saleh in Amman

Tanks advance near the Jordanian city of Maan during the Eager Lion 2017 joint military exercise on May 17th, 2017. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Tanks advance near the Jordanian city of Maan during the Eager Lion 2017 joint military exercise on May 17th, 2017. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Jordan and the US have been working closely to address shared security threats, conducting large-scale military exercises that serve as a deterrent against extremists and malign regional actors, US and Jordanian military officials said.

On the US side, this co-operation is formalized under the military's Jordan Operational Engagement Programme, with the forthcoming Eager Lion 2019 exercise set to kick off in August and continue into September.

Jordan will be hosting 30 partner nations for Eager Lion 2019, which is the largest participation of international partners to date, according to US Army Captain Erin Hilt.

In previous years, the annual exercise has seen the participation of 18 countries and 15,000 participants, including 8,000 US soldiers, a Jordanian official said.

"It is a large-scale international training exercise that takes place in Jordan, giving an opportunity for the kingdom’s friends and allies from across the globe to participate as a unified front in training," Hilt told Al-Mashareq.

The "operationally-focused, multi-lateral" drill will be hosted by the Jordanian Armed Forces with co-ordinated support from US Armed Forces, Hilt said.

It will focus on the "integration of partner forces in an irregular warfare-based scenario, emphasizing near peer threats, counter terrorism, integration of Air Missile Defence, border security and maritime operations", she said.

Meeting defence requirements

Eager Lion is designed to address strategic changes on the regional and international level, Jordanian Special Communications Commission director Brig. Gen. Hisham Khreisat told Al-Mashareq.

It aims to meet the defence requirements of all participating countries, and to ensure the readiness of the Jordanian Armed Forces, he said.

The exercise presents a "great opportunity for the Jordanian Armed Forces to test operational defence capabilities in different circumstances", he noted.

These include combating terrorism, maintaining border and maritime security, responding to disasters and providing humanitarian assistance, he said.

Eager Lion is considered "one of the most important exercises in the region, due to the number of activities, plans and studies that are carried out and the exchange of military experience among the participants", Khreisat said.

It includes ground, air and naval drills and training on how to deal with chemical attacks and how to intervene to secure chemical weapons sites, he said.

It also includes F-35 fighter jet training, he said, as well as testing the effective deployment of the Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.

The joint exercise seeks to meet "the operational, training and logistical requirements of the participating forces, with a focus on civilian and military operations and humanitarian role", he said.

It also involves training on ways to co-operate and co-ordinate with governmental and non-governmental institutions and international organisations, Khreisat said.

This is in addition to exchanging lessons learned from modern warfare and the nature of non-traditional threats that face international security, he said.

'Enhancement of partnerships'

Eager Lion scenarios will range from complex conventional warfare and special operations integration to robust information operations, Hilt said, and will include land, air and maritime-based tests of military power.

The objectives of the exercise include the "enhancement of Jordanian, US and coalition partnerships" and the military co-ordination between them, she said.

The border and maritime security components are designed to develop interagency capacity to respond to security threats and internal crises, Hilt said.

The training also is expected to "increase information operations and strategic communications effectiveness and capacity, and enhance joint force readiness", she added.

All partners involved in Eager Lion 2019 will "demonstrate their ability to expertly deploy to any corner of the globe in full force, in order to support each other in such a diverse and demanding environment", she said.

Participants will face a "challenging and complex scenario" this year, she said, as the exercise includes missions set against violent extremist groups, state-actor opponents and daunting geographic terrain.

'Very real threats facing the region'

"There are very real threats facing the region," Hilt said, stressing that "Jordan’s security, and the security of our partners, have always been our priority".

These include threats to navigation in international waters and the apparent loss of control by some state actors of proxy groups operating on their behalf, she said, which "jeopardise the safety and security of our friends and allies".

Eager Lion 2019 will be integrating "robust and creative mitigations against the threat of ballistic missiles, maritime warfare, rogue militia groups, state actors, and whatever else comes our way", she said.

An earlier exercise also sought to enhance regional security, she said.

In early May, US Army Central Command’s Task Force Spartan deployed its entire Division Tactical Command Post to al-Azraq air base in Jordan for an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE), she said.

Task Force Spartan maintains a US military presence in the Middle East and Gulf through Operation Spartan Shield that seeks to strengthen regional defence relationships.

The exercise demonstrated the military's ability to deploy an entire division headquarters element on emergency notice, anywhere throughout the region, thereby providing rapid and effective support to US allies, Hilt said.

"Much like Eager Lion will prove, the EDRE showed that the US and its partners have the interoperability capabilities to conduct real time operational command at a moment’s notice, from anywhere on earth, with as many forces as necessary," she said.

The Jordanian Armed Forces and Task Force Spartan have also been holding legal exchange symposiums with the participation of judges and lawyers from both countries. These symposiums aim to exchange legal methods and best practices to help prevent civilian casualties and reduce damage to infrastructure in the event of conflict.

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