Counter-Terrorism: Keeping Jordan Safe The Old Fashioned Way

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August 24, 2015: Jordan has long been a prime target for Islamic terror groups. Yet compared to other nations in the region the kingdom has, next to Israel, had the fewest Islamic terrorist incidents within its borders. This is no accident and is the result of having one of the best trained and reliable security forces in the region and being the beneficiary of a lot of help with equipment and specialist training from the United States and Israel. Jordan has been particularly good at keeping Islamic terrorists and professional smugglers from getting across its long borders with nations suffering from Islamic terrorism. The border with Iraq is 179 kilometers long and Syria is 379 kilometers. Less troublesome, but still requiring tight controls is the 731 kilometers long border with Saudi Arabia and 148 kilometer border with the West Bank. This last one has Israelis controlling the other side and the Israelis and Jordanians cooperate to keep illegal traffic from going in either direction.

Jordan uses UAVs, vidcams on the ground (especially in towers). There are also radars than can see through sand storms. Finally the Jordanian border guards are well trained and led and under orders to shoot first and shoot to kill whenever anyone gets too close to the border or crosses without permission. The “kill zones” along the border are clearly marked and several times a month someone tries to cross anyway and gets killed or wounded. The word gets around and that is a major deterrent.

Jordan also carefully screens refugees from Syria and Iraq. There are currently over 600,000 refugees in Jordan, most from Syria. Syrian refugees are carefully screened at the border, a process made easier by reducing the number of official Syrian border crossings from 45 to five. Some admitted refugees are noted as potentially a problem and are screened again once they are inside Jordan. The UN has complained the Jordan is too quick to expel suspicious refugees but the Jordanians point out that they have caught many Islamic terrorists who pretended to be refugees but that were late found to be in Jordan to kill. Jordan also insists that it keeps the terrorists out by erring on the side of caution when it comes to screening refugees, either at the border or later inside Jordan. 

All this security has required more trained people. So since early 2014 the Jordanian Army has increased its recruiting efforts. At first the government insisted this was routine but most Jordanians believe the increased recruiting is all about the threats from Syria and Iraq, especially Islamic terrorists from ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). ISIL considers Jordan a formidable enemy but also makes no secret of its desire to kill the Jordanian royal family. Another issue for ISIL is Jordanian support for Syrian rebels fighting ISIL

To deal with all this Jordan is trying to increase the size of its army from 88,000 to whatever it can afford (probably with some financial help from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) in order to better cope. Even if the increase is only a few thousand troops, it will take time and money to get the new recruits into shape. All Jordanian army recruits get 14 weeks of basic training and then a month or more of specialized training. It then takes a few years of active service before the new soldiers are considered really useful.

For Jordanians who make the army a career there are many opportunities for advancement. One of the most challenging, and rewarding opportunities is to gain admittance to Jordanian special operations troops (commandoes and rangers). These elite combat troops are particularly good and greatly feared by Islamic terrorists. Jordanian troops have also shown an exceptional ability to train Moslem troops for special operations. In 2007 Jordan provided training, in Jordan, for 2,400 members of the Afghan special operations (commando) forces. Members of Iraqi commando units were also trained. In both cases the Jordanian trained personnel went on to be particularly effective. 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 local Bedouins eagerly embraced British military techniques and traditions. Bedouins have long honored skilled warriors, and professional soldiers are seen as just that. These western training techniques and military practices became part of the Jordanian Bedouin culture.

In the 1967 war with Israel, 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. Jordan also became a good ally of the United States, and American Special Forces have worked with their Jordanian counterparts for decades. 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, which provides security for the royal family.

Jordanian special operations troops operate in many foreign countries. This was violently demonstrated in late 2009 when a suicide bombing of a U.S. base in Afghanistan killed eight intelligence operatives. Most of the victims were CIA but one of the people killed was Ali bin Zeid, an agent for Jordanian intelligence. 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 quietly 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.

The Jordanian armed forces contains 105,000 troops plus 65,000 trained reservists. It is a small force, but more effective, man-for-man, than any other in the region. Only about 40 percent of the eight million people in Jordan are Bedouins while about half are Palestinians (many who fled the West Bank in 1967 when Jordan lost control of the area to Israeli troops).

 

 


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