Special Operations: Jordan Makes A Threat


February 27, 2015: In January Jordan vowed revenge against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) for burning to death one of their F-16 pilots and for trying to take control of Jordan. Actually Jordan has been at war with ISIL since this organization was formed in 2013 and a decade before that when the predecessor of ISIL was the Iraq branch of al Qaeda. This time, however, the Jordanians are really angry and they have openly talked about unleashing their 14,000 strong special operation troops on ISIL as well has having Jordanian commandos work with Western counterparts to bring ISIL down. All this sort of thing is nothing new for the Jordanian special operations troops but this is the first time the government has openly talked about it. Jordanian commandos have been hunting Islamic terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since 2001 and earlier.

Since 2001 Jordan has been increasingly open about this sort of cooperation. For example Jordan eventually revealed that beginning in 2007 they provided training, in Jordan, for 2,400 members of the Afghan special operations (commando) forces. Members of Iraqi commando units were also trained in Jordan. Many of the more experienced ISIL leaders know that more use of Jordanian commandos against ISIL in Syria or Iraq would be damaging, but they are not going to discuss this openly as it would be bad for the morale of their followers. If Jordan does (or already has) sent its commandos after ISIL there won’t be any publicity and news of how that worked out will slowly become public over weeks, months or longer.

In 2009 Jordan opened a $200 million Special Operations Training Center. This facility trains Jordanians, as well as foreign troops, mainly those from Moslem nations. Jordan has long been recognized as having the best troops in the Arab world. This comes about because most Jordanian troops are recruited from the Bedouin population, and during several decades of British rule early in the century, the Bedouins eagerly embraced British military techniques and traditions. Bedouins have long honored skilled warriors, and professional soldiers are seen as just that. The Jordanian monarchy endorsed and encouraged these new traditions thus creating one of those increasingly common cultural transfers. Transfers like foreign music, films or tech (cell phones and PC) are relatively easy, but adopting foreign military traditions is more difficult but hardly impossible. It has happened in dozens of countries since World War II. But some countries are faster at it than others. Japan adopted Western military traditions in one generation in the 19th century while neighboring China required more than a century (and some observers believe China has not yet completed the process.)

Israel knew of this transformation early on and was not surprised that during the 1967 war with Israel (the first and only one so far), the Jordanians caused the Israelis more trouble than any other Arab army. Since then, the Israelis and Jordanians have maintained good relations, partly because of the realization that war between the two nations would be particularly bloody for both. Jordan also became a good ally of the United States, and American Special Forces have worked with their Jordanian counterparts for decades, in large part because the Jordanians absorb the American advice quickly and thoroughly, unlike many other countries that just go through the motions. Another thing that keeps the Jordanian troops on their toes is the fact that most Jordanians are non-Bedouin Palestinians, a population that has produced a lot of terrorists, and disloyal Jordanians. The royal family of Jordan, from an ancient Bedouin family, takes very good care of the largely Bedouin armed forces. The Jordanian special operations force is so large and well trained in part because the monarchy wants additional insurance against another Palestinian uprising (like the one in 1970). Thus Jordanians inclined towards Islamic terrorism tend to go do it outside Jordan. Even the slow learners have noted that Islamic terrorists operating inside Jordan get shut down very quickly.

The use of Jordanian commandos in Afghanistan was an open secret and became even more public in 2010 when a suicide bombing of a U.S. base in Afghanistan, killed eight intelligence operatives, most of them CIA. One of the people killed was Ali bin Zeid, an agent for Jordanian intelligence who often worked with Jordanian special operations forces. The fact that Zeid was identified was unusual, as the presence of Arab intelligence officials and commandos in Afghanistan is usually kept very quiet. But Zeid was a relative of the king of Jordan, and it was apparently thought better to just announce his "martyrdom" and avoid all the rumors that would appear otherwise.

One of the best kept secrets in the war on terror is the number of casualties among Arab commando and intelligence troops serving in Afghanistan. Several Arab nations have unobtrusively contributed intelligence and commando units to the counter-terror effort there. This has been kept quiet, but is an open secret in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. These commandos are usually pretty busy back home, keeping local Islamic radicals in check. But some of their home-grown radicals have shown up in Afghanistan and Pakistan (usually after things got too hot for them back home), and it followed that these Arab governments allowed some of their counter-terror troops to continue the pursuit in the pro-Taliban areas of Afghanistan. Arrangements with the Pakistani government has allowed some of these operatives to work both sides of the border. These Arab counter-terrorists often get a crack at any Arab terrorists caught in Afghanistan, or Pakistan. The combination of interrogation skills, and cultural affinity, sometimes gets results where Western interrogators have failed.

There have been some casualties among the Arab commandos who take part in combat operations. Those wounded or killed are referred to, if at all, as "international troops." The Arab operatives are eager to serve in Afghanistan, which is seen as the Big Leagues within the commando community. But there's also the self-interest angle. Many Arab counter-terrorist specialists are on al Qaeda's hit list, and some of these men even have prices on their heads. So it's sometimes a question of getting the other guy, before he gets you.



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