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Jordan Invites US Targets for Syrian Retaliation

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By Nicola Nasser*

Located at the crossroads of several regional crises, including the Palestinian -- Israeli and Iraqi conflicts, Jordan has been in the eye of the Syrian storm for more than thirty months, and managed to navigate safely so far, but the reportedly imminent US strike is pressuring the country between the rock and the hard place of the antagonists of the war on Syria.

Heavily burdened by the pressure of its strategic allies and financers in the US and the GCC Arab states, who have been leading an unwavering bloody campaign for a "regime change" in Damascus, Jordan could not but yield to their demands for logistical facilities in the country, consequently shooting its self-proclaimed neutrality in the legs.

Thus, grudgingly or otherwise, Jordan has in practice invited potential US targets for Syrian retaliation on its territory if and when the Syrian government perceives that those facilities are used in any US-led strike, now expected.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on August 29, interviewed by abcnews online, said that "Jordanian targets" could be targeted by Syria or by a Syrian allied "third party," a possible development that could embroil the US in defense.

Should such a scenario develop, Jordan will evolve unwillingly into a war zone, to regret yielding to the prerogatives of its strategic alliance with the United States regardless of who emerges winner or loser in the war.

US Targets Invited

When the Eager Lion 2013 exercise ended in June this year, Jordan, inviting a US target for Syrian retaliation, asked the US military to leave behind some equipment, including some F-16s and a Patriot missile defense system.

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Then, Jordan's Prime Minister, Abdullah al-Nsour, indicated a second US target when he told reporters that some 900 U.S. military personnel were in the country, of whom 200 are experts training Jordanians to handle a chemical attack and 700 manning the Patriot system and reportedly 45 F-16 fighter jets.

On last August 14, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Jordan asked the United States to provide manned US surveillance aircraft to help keep an eye on its border with Syria; thus a third US target for Syrian retaliation was invited.  

The USA embassy would be a fourth target should any planned US strike target Syrian non-military presidential or governmental headquarters.

However the Centcom's Forward Command in Jordan, officially called Centcom Forward-Jordan (CFJ), remains the oldest and the most important US target for Syrian retaliation.

In mid-August, Gen. Martin Dempsey was in Amman to inaugurate the CFJ, which is manned by 273 US officers, with a closed section, which "houses CIA personnel who control the work of US agents going in and out of Syria," and also a communications center, where "atop the underground facility is a large surface structure accommodating the American military and civilian offices dealing with Syrian issues from Jordan," according to the Israeli www.debka.com on August 17, 2013, which confirmed a report two days earlier by The New York Times according to which "American correspondents were allowed to visit the site under ground rules that its location not be disclosed."

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However, on October 18 last year the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly reported that the location chosen to host the CFJ was "a Jordanian military base built in an abandoned quarry north of the Jordanian capital Amman, just 35 miles from the Syrian border," which extends 300 miles along Jordan's northern flank, and some 120 miles from the Syrian capital Damascus.

Al-Ahram explained that "the origins of the previously secret US deployment in Jordan" dated back to May the same year, "when the Pentagon sent American troops, including Special Forces units, to the country to participate in joint military exercises dubbed Operation Eager Lion. Some 100 military personnel stayed behind and were then joined by dozens more. The task force, according to the New York Times, is commanded by a "senior American officer'."

Speaking to the media at the close of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting at the time in Brussels, former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed the existence of a "US task force that has been sent to Jordan this week after it was first reported in The New York Times," Al-Ahram added. "The force would be tasked with ensuring the security of the chemical and biological weapons in Syria," Panetta was quoted as saying. Al-Ahram's report added: "the outpost near Amman could play a broader role should American policy change" and Washington decide to launch an intervention in Syria.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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