The Strengthening Military Ties Between the US and Jordan

The annual "Eager Lion" joint exercise is the largest US Central Command exercise, designed to strengthen military relationships between the US and Jordan. Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay on the "largest and most complex exercise to date"

Photo credit: US Navy

Jordan and the United States kicked off on May 7, 2017, the annual military exercises, known as "Eager Lion," with about 7,400 troops from more than 20 nations taking part. The "Eager Lion 2017" exercises concluded on May 18, 2017. 

"Eager Lion" is an annual military exercise organized by United States Central Command (Centcom) between the Kingdom of Jordan and the United States, preparing both forces to fight alongside one another. Exercise "Eager Lion" has been conducted annually since 2011.

The military drill saw the participation of Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Lebanon, the UK, France, Kenya, Italy, Pakistan, the US, Belgium, Poland, Holland, Australia, Greece, Japan and representatives of NATO. The largest forces participating in the exercise this year are from the United States, Jordan, Belgium, and Italy.

In a news conference, director of joint training in the Jordanian Army, Maj. Gen. Khaled Sharaa said "Eager Lion" would be held at the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army’s training fields, with the participation of security agencies, ministries, governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the National Center for Security and Crisis Management would also take part in the drills.

Jordanian and US officials said the maneuvers would include border security, cyber defense, and "command and control" exercises, to bolster coordination in response to threats including terrorism.

"Joint efforts and coordination and the exchange of expertise [...] are needed at the time when the region is facing the threat of terrorism," Jordanian Brig. Gen. Khalid al-Shara, who will head the exercises, told reporters.

Maj. Gen. Bill Hickman, Deputy Commanding General of Operations for 3rd Army/US Central Command, said this year’s "Eager Lion" exercises – the seventh so far – are "the largest and most complex to date."

On May 14, 2017, the Royal 29 Mortars Battalion carried out a joint drill with US forces. The commander of the Jordanian battalion said that the exercise came after eight days of joint training, where participants received theoretical and practical training on telecommunication, mobility, loading and safety measures.

Seminar on the Threat of Terrorism in the Post-ISIS Era

A seminar for senior commanders participating in the Eager Lion 2017 drill was held on May 12, 2017, at the InterContinental Amman Hotel. The countries that participated in the seminar included, along with Jordan and the US, Italy, Pakistan, Belgium, Kuwait, Lebanon, Australia, the UK, Japan, Iraq, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Egypt, France, and Qatar. Participants discussed the threat of terrorism, including in the post-ISIS era.

Participants focused on the challenges facing their countries regarding border security and the possibility of the return of foreign fighters to their countries, in addition to challenges facing countries hosting refugees when it comes to security, education, economy and social aspects. 

They also discussed possible future threats that could arise after ISIS and the importance of unifying efforts to rehabilitate societies and rebuild them, especially the ones that suffered from wars and control by terrorist groups, in addition to the importance of unifying statements sent to the media. 

The highlight of this year’s exercise, he said, will be that "for the first time ever, a global strike mission" will be conducted by "two US Air Force B-1B bomber aircraft” – a long-range multi-mission bomber.

The final-day drills included the highlight of this year’s exercise, a global strike mission conducted by two US Air Force B-1B bomber aircraft which entered Jordan's airspace accompanied by jets from the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Jordanian F-16s and fighter helicopters also provided their support during the bombardment drill, as well as parachuting.

On the Sidelines of Exercise "Eager Lion"

The United States. King Abdullah discussed during a meeting held at Al Husseiniya Palace, bilateral cooperation, especially in military fields, with Commander of the US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel, according to a Royal Court statement. The meeting was attended by Royal Court Chief Fayez Tarawneh, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat, and King's Office Director Jafar Hassan.

Italy. In a separate meeting at Al Husseiniya Palace, the King discussed bilateral cooperation in military and defense affairs with Chief of Staff of the Italian Army Gen. Danilo Errico. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat met separately with Errico and the accompanying military delegation, and they discussed regional developments and army-related issues. 

Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat met with the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army Gen. Othman Ghanmi to discuss the latest regional and international developments.

Syria. At the beginning of exercise, pro-Syrian media reported that US, British and Jordanian forces were "massing" on the Jordanian side of the border. At the time, Syria's foreign minister warned Jordan against sending troops into Syria.

Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif has warned the US and its allies against pursuing military action near Syria's borders. Zarif's comments came in response to the commencement of the "Eager Lion" exercise. The massive mobilization has been regarded with deep suspicion by Iran, and Zarif told the Lebanon-based media outlet Al Mayadeen TV that US-backed actions could not remove the Iran-backed government in neighboring Syria and any foreign military activity in the region is doomed to failure,” Zarif said.

Eager Lion 2016 (May 15-24, 2016)

Eager Lion 2016 was a series of scenarios that simulated a coordinated, partnered military response to conventional and unconventional threats. Exercise areas included border security, command and control, cyber defense and battle management, according to a Centcom fact sheet. About 6,000 service members, 3,000 from each country participated in the exercise. Military members from Centcom represent its air, land and maritime components. The "Eager Lion 16" exercise culminated on May 24, 2016, with a combined arms live fire exercise between the US and Jordanian militaries. US forces provide support by fire as Jordanian Armed Forces soldiers cleared a town building-by-building. Preparation for this year’s (2017) large-scale exercise began immediately following 2016’s Eager Lion conclusion.

The US-Jordan Strategic Relations

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations more than six decades ago, Jordan and the United States have enjoyed strong relations based on common goals and mutual respect. The relationship has endured the complexities and volatilities of the Middle East and has demonstrated that the two countries can rely on each other as allies and partners.

Jordan is a key recipient of US financial aid. It has received more than $13 billion in assistance since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This has helped Jordan build its institutions, develop its infrastructure and be a source of moderation and stability in the Middle East.

With the crisis in Syria continuing to escalate, the conflict has become a major source of bloodshed and regional instability. Jordan appreciates the coordination and the assistance from the US in dealing with the repercussions of this conflict; most notably the influx of more than 440,000 Syrians into Jordan. Jordan continues to work with the US on limiting the effects of the conflict in the region.

US forces have trained a small group of Syrian rebels in Jordan, and American instructors have trained Iraqi and Palestinian security forces in Jordan as well over the past few years.

Two years ago, the United States announced its intention to increase overall US assistance to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion annually for the 2015-2017 periods.

Summary

"Eager Lion" is an annual joint exercise that has been held in Jordan since 2011. It is the largest US Central Command exercise and is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the US and Jordan. According to Maj. Gen. William B. Hickman, Deputy Commanding General of Operations for 3rd Army/US Central Command, exercise "Eager Lion" is a "keystone event" between the strategic partnership between the US military and Jordan Forces.

Approximately 7,400 military personnel, including land, maritime, and Air Force troops from more than 20 nations, participated in the drills, making 2017 the largest involvement to date. 

For the first time, this year’s exercise included a global strike mission, conducted by two US Air Force B-1B "Lancers." The aircraft embarked on a non-stop, 35-hour, 14,000-mile flight over Jordan, and had to refuel four times while in flight.

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