Syria: the elephant in the room amid military exercise in Jordan
May 16th, 2012
02:57 PM ET

Syria: the elephant in the room amid military exercise in Jordan

Editor's Note:  Barbara Starr is in Jordan covering the Eager Lion 2012 exercise.  Read her reporting here.  Watch her reports on Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (4pET-6pET).

By Barbara Starr

With a photo of a raging lion over their shoulders, senior U.S. and Jordanian generals opened a massive military exercise dubbed "Eager Lion."

The kickoff came with adamant statements that the 12,000 troops from 19 countries now in Jordan were here only for the training - and it all has nothing to do with the violence now raging across Jordan's northern border inside Syria.

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But it is hard to avoid. Even the exercise name has raised suspicions. In Arabic, the word for lion is asad.

But the name has nothing to do with the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, say Maj. Gen. Awni Ad Adwan, head of Jordanian military operations and training, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, head of U.S. Central Command's special operations force.

Technically, everyone is correct. The name of the exercise was chosen two years ago, the timing of it set nearly three years ago. Officially, the exercise is about 19 nations training together and, as with all U.S. military training exercises, the threat the troops are practicing to fend off is unnamed.

But there is the technical answer and then there is reality. Syria looms large here.

Publicly, officials are adamant that Jordan's neighbor to the north is not the issue or the reason for the military gathering. It is a very sensitive topic and, after two days on the ground, an unavoidable topic with pretty much every Jordanian and U.S. official I've talked to.

Jordan's leaders are seriously concerned about what al-Assad might do, and what that means for Jordan's security. So merely having this exercise go forward, many here believe, sends a message to Assad that Jordan will be defended and helped - or so the Jordanians hope.

U.S. and Jordanian special operations forces in particular are training for several days on key assault and commando operations, fine-tuning skills learned over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines conduct assault operations in southern Jordan, which is as far from Syria as they can be.

But what is the threat from Syria?

First, there are tens of thousands of Palestinians in Syria, many near the Jordanian border. If Assad feels vulnerable, he could open up the border and force them south into Jordan, which then would face economic and political hardship from yet more refugees. This would be after years of Jordan's taking in Iraqi and Palestinian refugees under great financial strain. Syrian forces have already fired at refugees fleeing across border checkpoints in Jordan.

The nightmare scenario for everyone is al-Assad's weapons of mass destruction. What if those weapons, currently deemed secure, were to slip away from state control and be smuggled into Jordan for a potential terrorist attack?

Two tasks the troops of Eager Lion will practice are dealing with a flow of displaced persons and responding to a chemical incident, though the latter exercise will use a scenario involving an industrial accident.

Still, it helps explain, as foreign troops move around this country and U.S. Marines fly their combat-proven V-22 tilt rotor aircraft near Jordan's capital city, why everyone knows there just might be a bit of reality in this training exercise against no specific enemy.

Think of it as just in case.

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Filed under: Assad • Eager Lion 2012 • Jordan • Military • Syria
soundoff (23 Responses)
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  5. sjdsh

    Operation "Eager Liars" 2012.

    May 23, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
  6. Jon

    I don't understand why the article is making this sound like more than it is.. "Technically... and publicly officials are adamant that Jordan's neighbor to the north is not the issue or the reason for the military gathering." The exercise was planned and named years ago! And then the article makes it sound like a conspiracy that they are doing displacement training and bio-weapon training... Of course they are! They are going to perform training exercises of events that could actually happen! They're not going to perform an exercise practicing what to do in case sharks grow legs and begin attacking tourists on South Beach. Sorry for my rant, but I'm just a bit sick of CNN (and pretty every media agency) trying to build up stories to more than they are.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  7. asahi

    first of all, the WMD need to be destroyed immediately!
    Assuming they only have biological and chemical weapons, an airstrike followed by a huge fire would render them useless!

    May 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  8. MazeAndBlue

    Sure hope and pray that the Syrian conflict does not spill into Jordan

    May 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  9. JohanHorn

    The distance between the Jordanian-Syrian border and Damascus, only 50 miles .
    Go to Syria. The Assad regime is very weak. 3 days is sufficient to occupy Damascus and overthrow of Assad. Jordanian soldiers and U.S. aircraft can do this job . Stop the massacres in Syria .

    May 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • Miami11111

      I agree with you, Johan! But for some reason the World wants to keep Assad in power ...

      May 17, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
      • Trevor

        Lots of reasons that Syria hasn't been another Libya...geography, more robust IADS, Russian and Iranian support and no organization to the resistance. BTW, Jordanian soldiers aren't up to the task, and it's not the job of the U.S. to enter into every Arab conflict and "rescue" them. Sounds harsh, but Libya was a national interest to NATO because of oil and Syria is not.

        May 18, 2012 at 9:49 am |

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