Jordan’s Growing Role in the Anti-ISIS Coalition

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A handout picture released by the official Jordanian news agency, PETRA on February 8, 2015 shows a squadron of United Arab Emirates (UAE) F-16 fighters stationed in one of Jordan's air bases to support it in strikes against ISIS. AFP/PETRA

By: Mahmoud Mrouweh

Published Wednesday, February 11, 2015

US talk of an imminent ground offensive in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged as Jordan’s role has transformed into what looks like an advanced military base.

Since the US-led international coalition against ISIS was first announced at a Jeddah conference last September, its operational dynamics and goals have become ever more clear. One of the first things to transpire was that different strategies were being employed in Syria and Iraq. A few days ago, the coalition’s coordinator, retired US General John Allen, announced that a ground campaign will begin against ISIS in Iraq “within weeks” under Iraqi leadership while “the coalition will provide major firepower.” He pointed out that “coalition forces are preparing 12 Iraqi brigades, which have been receiving training and arms to pave the way for the ground operation.”

What is new about Allen’s pronouncements, which were made during an interview with Jordan’s official Petra news agency, are that they publicize the (rough) timing of the offensive. Talk of training and preparation for a ground offensive has been heard since the campaign to “liberate” the areas under ISIS control began late last summer. US newspapers wrote at length about these plans and about cooperation with Iraqi tribes. In addition, Washington had urged the Iraqi government to adopt draft laws (such as the national guard) and governance models suitable for expanding the spectrum of forces participating in the “liberation” operations, specifically in the Anbar province.

Since ISIS’ expansion in northern Iraq, liberating the city of Mosul became a predicament for the Iraqi government in terms of determining the forces that will participate and the human and military resources required for such an operation. Iraqi political sources say: “The Iraqi government agrees, generally speaking, with the idea that liberating the central and southern areas surrounding Baghdad should be undertaken by the government along with the Volunteer Forces while liberating the western areas should be the responsibility of local forces with US support.”

Iraqi sources argue that “the ground offensive which is being talked about cannot be dissociated from the reality of US military return to Iraq after its departure in 2011.” They add: “What is being said about the presence of some 3,500 US consultants in the field to assist Iraqi forces is inaccurate. The real figure for weeks now could be as high as 10,000, most of them combatants.”

The Iraqi sources’ statement dovetails with the fact that US forces had been looking for ways to return militarily to the region since 2011. Official leaks suggest that Washington aims to “establish five military bases in Iraq, one of them in Baghdad (which already exists), another in Erbil and one in Anbar.” The sources do not know the location of the other two bases.

Allen said during his interview: “We set up four camps in Anbar, Taji, Bismaya and Erbil where coalition forces provide training for the Iraqi army which will become part of the forces engaged in the counter-offensive.” He said: “The coalition is currently supporting Iraqi tribes and there are young men from Iraq and US special troops that are training Iraqi tribesmen who have already started fighting the terrorist group as they did with al-Qaeda, especially in al-Anbar...”

This news coincides with announcements by US officials that, by Wednesday, the White House is going to ask Congress for a new authorization to use force against ISIS. This paves the way for lawmakers to vote for the first time on this campaign that has actually been ongoing for six months. The draft resolution that the US administration will send to lawmakers will be the first time the president seeks a formal authorization to use military force to fight ISIS.

In addition to all this information, a question must be asked about the timing of Allen’s announcement of an impending ground offensive in Iraq. There might be another reason behind the timing, such as the near readiness of the forces being trained by the US. Nevertheless, the announcement cannot be dissociated from new developments surrounding Iraq and Syria. The most important of these new developments is Jordan turning into what appears to be an advanced military base for international coalition forces.

Reports of burning the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh to death spurred Jordan to assume a larger military and media role within the so-called war against ISIS. In recent days, Amman dramatically increased its aerial raids against the group while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reversed a decision to suspend its involvement in coalition strikes. UAE sent a squadron of F-16s to Jordan “conducting air strikes yesterday morning against ISIS positions.”

UAE’s decision to send fighter jets came after French officials announced sending six Mirage fighter jets to Jordan last November. Jordan’s role, however, is not restricted to becoming an advanced military base. The role of the joint operations room in Amman, which manages the operations of armed groups in south Syria specifically, is also well known. Amman has become a center for the Iraqi and Syrian opposition, especially its tribal component, in clear defiance of the Iraqi and Syrian governments.

Jordan enjoys an important geographical location, because of its proximity to Syrian and Iraqi territories, and because it borders Iraq’s Anbar province and southern Syria. In an interview a few days ago, Jordan’s Information Minister Mohammed al-Momani said his country is “considered an integral and active participant in the international coalition and the war against this terrorist group is our war.” About the nature of Jordan’s participation, he said: “We are talking about a military and security effort as well as an extended intelligence effort.”

In light of this information, one might understand the significance of recent Syrian statements made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem, who said in a press conference: “ISIS cannot be destroyed with air strikes but rather with a ground war supported by an air campaign. That is what the Iraqi and Syrian armies are currently doing, with one simple difference and that is the Iraqi army is fighting only ISIS whereas the Syrian army is fighting more than 70 armed terrorist groups in addition to ISIS and al-Nusra Front.” He added: “We do not need anyone to bring their ground forces to fight ISIS for two reasons. The first reason is we have a Syrian Arab army and popular defense forces who are carrying out this task and the second reason is we have a steadfast Syrian Arab population. What we ask of the international community is to drain the sources of terrorism and compel Jordan and Turkey to control their borders, then the Syrian Arab army will be capable of defeating ISIS and al-Nusra quickly.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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