By Osama Al Sharif, AL MONITOR
Jordan could be preparing for joint military operations with US and British special forces against Islamic State (IS) militants in southern Syria following King Abdullah’s meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on April 5. The talks dealt with a number of issues but centered on the US-led fight against the terrorist group, the creation of safe zones in Syria and Jordan’s role in both. In his interview with The Washington Post the same day, the king alluded to Jordan’s readiness to deal with threats to the kingdom’s northern borders, saying that “non-state actors from outside coming toward our border are not going to be tolerated.”
There are fears that as IS militants flee Mosul and Raqqa, many will head toward the vast Syrian Badia extending from Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria to the Jordanian border in the south. A recent US congressional report estimated the number of Jordanians who have joined IS in Iraq and Syria since 2011 at 4,000. Other estimates put the number of Jordanians fighting with IS at between 500-3,000. Regardless of the exact figure, pundits here believe many will try to come back to carry out terrorist attacks in Jordan.
But there was no official comment on reports that US and British special forces have been deployed in north Jordan along the borders with Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said April 14 that Moscow was following news that the US has deployed troops on Syria’s southern borders and that it was seeking clarifications. On April 15, Jordan’s armed forces announced that they will carry out their annual joint military exercises, called Eager Lion, with the United States and 22 other nations between May 7-18.
On the same day the king and Trump met, IS released a 20-minute video featuring four Jordanian militants issuing direct threats to the regime and calling on their followers to carry out attacks against army, police and security targets. They celebrated December’s Kerak castle attack, where IS militants killed nine security personnel and one Canadian tourist. The video ended with the horrific beheading of four Syrians who the militants claimed were trained in Jordan to fight IS. Jordan supports the so-called New Syrian Army (NSA), which is mainly made up of local Syrian tribes and Free Syrian Army (FSA) members in the south of the country. Amman has made it clear on a number of occasions that the NSA’s objective is to fight IS and other militant groups and not the Syrian regime.
While local authorities did not comment on the IS video, there are signs that they are taking the threats seriously. Security around churches was beefed up on the eve of Easter celebrations following the suicide attacks against churches in Egypt on April 9, for which IS claimed responsibility. And since the Kerak attack, the authorities have rounded up dozens of IS sympathizers as a precautionary measure.
Jordan is particularly worried about the presence of IS militants in a makeshift Syrian refugee camp at Rukban, …read more