On Friday, April 26, a few hours after this issue reaches DEBKA-Net-Weekly subscribers, Jordan's King Abdullah II will be sitting down at the White House with President Barack Obama. When they finish talking, they will shake hands on the exact date in the coming days for the consignment of 20,000 American troops to the Hashemite Kingdom.
Obama has ordered the biggest overt surge of US troops in six years in any Middle East country.
In 2007, the Bush administration approved the influx of 21,000 to Iraq followed in 2010, by Obama’s green light for a 33,000-troop surge in Afghanistan.
The 200 US 1st Armored Division soldiers, whose deployment in Jordan was announced by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday, April 17, were in fact the vanguard of the main force.
The Pentagon described this initial deployment as giving the United States the capacity to "potentially form a joint task force [with Jordan] for military operations, if ordered," by the President.
The advance force’s mission was to lay the groundwork for the main body to take up quarters at King Hussein Air Base Mafraq, at a hamlet of 60,000 inhabitants, which is strategically located 80 km north of the Jordanian capital Amman, on the crossroads to Syria to the north and Iraq to the east.
This air base will be home to the incoming American troops. US engineering corps units have been working 24/7 to expand the base, adapt it to its new functions and construct accommodation for the GIs.
Israel deeply involved in US military boost for King Abdullah
Most of the contingents will be airlifted to their new base from US and Europe through Israeli air space, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive military sources.
Israeli Air Force jets will escort the transports over the eastern Mediterranean until they touch down in Jordan and keep an air umbrella in place over the American force for the duration of its stay.
The heavy equipment - tanks, missiles, self-propelled artillery, armored vehicles and Patriot missile intercept batteries – will be transported by sea to two destinations: Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba and the Israeli port of Haifa.
These arrangements were tied up by Defense Secretary Hagel in his talks this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
In those conversations, our sources disclose, Israeli leaders offered every assistance, including air and intelligence resources, needed for preserving the Hashemite throne in Jordan, including support for the incoming US force. Netanyahu gave this pledge to King Abdullah on the four occasions that they met in Amman.
Shielding Jordan from Syria and al Qaeda
The sizeable American military force soon to be stationed in Jordan near the Syrian border has important connotations for the Obama administration:
1. For the first time since the Arab Revolt erupted in December 2010, the US is undertaking a commitment to buttress the stability of an Arab royal government.
Up until now, the administration shied off overt involvement in the turbulence overtaking Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria after those nations ousted their autocratic rulers. They were left to their own devices, even when Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood stepped into empty shoes.
Jordan is the exception. This royal house is to be saved from overthrow by the Muslim Brotherhood which is gunning for it, Washington has decided.
2. The US force is also there to defend King Abdullah and his kingdom from the threat of a Syrian attack.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 584 of April 19: Assad is Poised to Attack Jordan – Unless Obama Stops Him).
3. The American shield is spread additionally to cover any possible al Qaeda incursions from eastern Iraq and northern Syria that would seek to shake the throne by sowing multiple terror in Jordan’s cities.
Al Qaeda’s two new dynamic fronts
Before traveling to Washington, King Abdullah briefed Hagel who passed through Amman on April 23 on the 2,000-3,000 Jordanian al Qaeda jihadis fighting the Assad regime alongside Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing Jabhat al-Nusra, and other Islamist groups.
According to our intelligence and counterterrorism sources, these Jordanian Islamists are preparing to bring the “holy war” into their own country.
Initially, they planned to dispose of Bashar Assad first, but now that they grasp they are chasing a remote prospect (see separate article on the state of the Syrian war), their commanders are focusing on their homeland.
They would be led by “Abu Anas,” who is in charge of Al-Nusrah’s operations in the Syrian South and responsible for recruiting hundreds of Jordanians to Al Qaeda’s Syrian Front.
The concern in Washington, Amman and Jerusalem is that the jihadist onslaught on Jordan would be two-pronged, waged by expat fighters returning from Syria together with their al Qaeda allies from Iraq.
This would place the Obama administration in an ironic situation: Having reeled in its troops from Iraq and eventually Afghanistan, America may be dogged by two fresh and dynamic al Qaeda fronts – one in Jordan and a second in the Caucasus, as the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15 demonstrated.
The conversation Obama held with visiting Qatari ruler, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Tuesday. April 23 was less amicable than the one with Abdullah. According to our Washington sources, the president put his visitor on the carpet for funneling weapons and cash support to Syrian rebel groups linked to al Qaeda and other radical Islamic movements.
The president asked the emir to coordinate his largesse to the Syrian rebels henceforth with Washington and the Turkish government.
Al Thani's response is unknown, but he has rarely complied with Obama’s requests on this score in the past.
Opening the window for US intervention in Syria
4. The new US deployment on the Jordan-Syria border opens up the strongest option to date for US military intervention in the Syrian conflict – whether to target Bashar Assad’s brutal army, curb the use of chemical weapons or rein in the Al Qaeda momentum for radicalizing Syria.
Installing a substantial military force in the Hashemite Kingdom sends a signal that Washington proposes to confine any incursions into Syria to in-and-out operations after which American soldiers would return to the base they have set up in Jordan.
5. Their presence there will also be a barrier against aggression targeting Israel on the part of armed Iranian elements in Syria and Lebanon or a combined Syrian-Hizballah offensive.
At the heart of the new deployment is a row of US Patriot missile intercept batteries to be ranged along the Jordanian-Syrian border in case Assad decides to fire missiles against the kingdom. These Patriots will operate in sync with the Israeli missile intercept systems strung out along its borders with Syria and Lebanon, and the NATO Patriot anti-missile missiles guarding Turkey.
6. By parking a 20,000-strong force of US fighting men in Jordan, the Obama administration hopes to convince Gulf rulers that he is serious about his commitment to defend them against Iran.