Attrition: Jordan Wants A Few More Good Men

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July 24, 2014:   The Jordanian Army has recently undertaken a recruitment drive. The government says this is routine but Jordanians know better. Jordan is now faced with threats from Syria and Iraq, especially Islamic terrorists from ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) which recently declared itself the new caliphate and ruler of the Moslem world. Jordan is on the ISIL target list, as is the Jordanian royal family. The Jordanian Army is increasingly involved with training Syrian rebels who will fight ISIL and for providing better security on Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq. Thus it appears that Jordan is increasing 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 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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