U.S. Arms May Stay Longer in Jordan Amid Stability FearsDonna Abu-Nasr
U.S. F-16 combat aircraft and Patriot missile defense batteries sent to Jordan on a military exercise may remain in the country longer amid growing U.S. concerns that the pro-Western country could collapse.
Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that neighboring Syria is at risk of “complete and total implosion,” and three U.S. officials said that Jordan’s pro-Western monarchy, already suffering economic and political strains, may buckle under the added pressure of more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees. The three officials asked not to be identified to discuss internal and international deliberations.
Kerry may stop in Jordan next week, when’s he’s scheduled to return to Israel and the West Bank as part of the Obama administration’s attempt to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, according to another U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to speak for attribution about travel plans.
The American aircraft and missiles are being dispatched to Jordan for long-planned annual war games with the country’s armed forces, the three officials said. Jordan hasn’t decided if the weapons should remain in the kingdom after the exercises end, Media Affairs Minister Mohammad Momani said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“Given our strong alliance with Jordan and in light of circumstances in the region and escalating violence along Jordan’s borders, if requested” some missiles and planes “may remain,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said.
The U.S. officials said the American government is less worried about a Syrian attack on Jordan than it is about Islamic extremists from Iraq and other countries who are now battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad taking their fight to Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are seeking to organize a peace conference in Geneva to end the two-year civil war in Syria. The top U.S. diplomat yesterday described the effort as “a very difficult process” to stop the country from sliding “into a complete and total implosion where it has broken up into enclaves, and the institutions of the state have been destroyed.”
The military exercise in Jordan, called Eager Lion 2013, will involve about 15,000 personnel from countries including the U.K., France, Canada, Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Defense News reported on May 25. The exercise will last about two weeks, according to a military official quoted on its website.
Outside powers are “pumping foreign weaponry into a volatile region,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its website yesterday, commenting on the possible U.S. deployment in Jordan.
The U.K. and France plan to arm the Syrian rebels if the Geneva meeting fails to make progress, according to U.K. officials cited May 31 by the Financial Times. The same officials, who weren’t identified, said the U.K. and France expect the U.S. to send weapons, too, if the talks fail.
U.S. officials said yesterday that President Barack Obama’s administration remains reluctant to do so for fear that extremist groups could obtain some of the arms.
Without the threat of outside nations increasing military aid to rebel forces, the Syrian regime appears unwilling to revise its calculus that it’s winning the war and Assad isn’t likely to make concessions, said a State Department official who briefed reporters on May 23 on condition of not being identified.
Thousands of troops loyal to Assad, along with Hezbollah militia allies from neighboring Lebanon, are preparing to enter the province of Aleppo, a rebel stronghold close to the Turkish border, the U.K.-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said this week.
Hezbollah is already engaged in an attempt to recapture the key central city of Al-Qusair. Rebels have threatened the Shiite group with retaliatory attacks inside Lebanon, raising the specter of a transnational conflict, and there have since been reports of engagements between Syrian rebels and Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Turkish tanks and other armored vehicles took up positions on hillsides overlooking Syria near the town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province yesterday as part of an exercise, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. The muzzles of the Turkish guns pointed toward Syria, it said.
About 80,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war, a United Nations official estimated last month.
Both government and rebel forces are increasingly engaging in human-rights abuses including summary executions, according to a UN report published yesterday.
Syrian opposition forces recruited a 14-year-old boy from Homs as a fighter and had a child take part in beheading two government soldiers, according to the report presented in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council.
Mass executions are publicly carried out in locations such as Daraa and Aleppo, where the rebels have established judicial and administrative authority, the 29-page report said. The number of extra-judicial killings and kidnappings by the opposition has risen, and about 86 child soldiers have been killed during combat, it said.
Commenting on the report, the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, said in an e-mailed statement that it rejects any violations of the law and would punish anyone involved in such crimes.
“Still, there’s no comparison between those who use tons of explosives every day against an unarmed people” and those carrying light-to-medium weapons to defend themselves, the group said in a statement.
With Assad barring access to Syria by outsiders, the report is based on 430 interviews with victims and firsthand witnesses to atrocities.
As reports alleging use of nerve gas multiply -- with at least six possible incidents reported to the UN so far -- the human-rights panel said it “is possible that anti-government armed groups may access and use chemical weapons.” Each side in the conflict has accused the other of chemical attacks and denied its own involvement.