By DEBKAfile, Exclusive Report —
A large American military force disembarked Tuesday, June 4, at the southern Jordanian port of Aqaba – ready for deployment on the kingdom’s Syrian border, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report. The force made its way north along the Aqaba-Jerash-Ajilon mountain road bisecting Jordan from south to north, under heavy Jordanian military escort.
Our sources disclose that this American force numbers 1,000 troops, the largest to land in Jordan since the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2012. They are members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force carried aboard the USS Kearsage amphibious assault ship, which has been anchored off neighboring Israeli Eilat since mid-May. Upon landing, the marines took to the road in a convoy of armored vehicles including Hummers.
Washington and Amman have imposed a blackout on their arrival. The Pentagon has only let it be known that the annual joint US-Jordanian “Eager Lion 2013” military exercise is due to begin later in June and last two months, with the participation of US F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile defense systems.
According to our US sources, the arrival of the US force in Jordan was not directly related to the regular exercise but decided on at an emergency meeting at the Pentagon on May 31, which was attended by top military and civilian Defense Department officials. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is away from Washington, took part by video conference.
The meeting decided that the military situation evolving in Syria and threats it posed to Jordan – including widening evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria – were urgent enough to warrant the dispatch of extra American military strength to Jordan, over and above the contingents participating in the joint exercise. The Israeli Air Force will provide air cover for the force until the F-16 jets are in place for the drill.
The US Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor in a statement to the US media said only: “In order to enhance the defensive posture and capacity of Jordan, some of these assets may remain beyond the exercise at the request of the government of Jordan.”
That request, according to our sources, was for the US to leave behind when the exercise ended and the troops departed – not just some of the weapons systems but all of the equipment which arrived with the marines Wednesday, as well as the F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles.
There is no official word about Washington’s response to this request. However, the Obama administration is not expected to turn it down.