US Lawmakers Urge Obama To Boost Aid to Jordan

[21-02-2015 11:00 PM]

Ammon News - AMMONNEWS - US and Jordanian officials are expected to talk on the sidelines of IDEX, discussions that may carry extra weight in light of US lawmakers' recent pressure to expedite foreign military sales to Jordan.

The lawmakers appear to hope that Jordan — which at press time had launched airstrikes but committed no ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State group (also called ISIS or ISIL) — could assume a strengthened role in the US-led coalition, given the incentive of US weaponry and backing. Despite a December assessment by the Congressional Research Service that Jordan was unlikely to deploy ground troops against the Islamic State, the idea became a viable topic here after Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh's gruesome death at the hands of the Islamic State was made public in early February.

On Feb. 5, two days after Jordanian King Abdullah II cut his US visit short, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., called on the president to send Amman the Predator XP surveillance drone. In a letter, Hunter said Obama had denied a request for the appropriate export license and should reverse the decision immediately.

"In response to the brutal killing of the Jordanian pilot at the hands of the Islamic State, Jordan has promised swift and forceful retribution — and rightly so," Hunter wrote. "In fact, Jordan is uniquely positioned to support and perhaps lead the fight against the Islamic State, and it's now our obligation to offer Jordan our full support in this effort."

In the US, Abdullah had expressed gratitude to lawmakers for ongoing US assistance but said he was experiencing delays obtaining certain types of military equipment.

"Jordan has made requests for specific resources — including ammunition," Hunter wrote. "Given our mutual interests, and our strong relationship, it's absolutely critical that we provide Jordan the support needed to defeat the Islamic State."

A day earlier, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee had sent a similar letter to the State Department, saying the Jordanian monarch's requests for aircraft parts, additional night-vision equipment and precision munitions, were hung up in the State Department-led Foreign Military Sales program.

The senators' letter acknowledged a need to ensure the integrity of third-party transfers, protect critical US technologies and maintain a military edge for Israel, but also argued that Jordan needed the materiel right away. It urged speedy action, timed to Jordan's "determined resolve to fight ISIL and the strengthening of our bilateral relationship and security cooperation.

"We believe that Jordan's requests need to be addressed expeditiously, commensurate with their urgent operational needs in the fight against ISIL," the senators wrote.

Only Hunter's letter specified the Predator XP, the export version of the MQ-1 Predator. Other overseas customers include India, which in early February signed a deal worth an estimated $400 million, according to press accounts, and the United Arab Emirates, which inked a $200 million deal in 2013.

State Department officials declined to discuss specific defense items, but insisted they were acting promptly on requests for military capabilities from Jordan, a pillar of regional security and contributor to the anti-Islamic State coalition.

William Landay, retired director of the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), acknowledged that some requests take time to wind through internal vetting, technology reviews and congressional notifications. However, the system, sparked by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become more responsive, evidenced by the quick US response to the Libyan civil war, he said.

At the DSCA, Landay said he oversaw an extraordinary effort to expedite one Jordanian request.

"The fact that they are a strong partner and they are a key player in this and have been an FMS partner in the past helps, but it depends on what they are asking for," he said.

Jordanian and US officials are expected to hold discussions on the sidelines of IDEX, talks that are as much about the relationship as they are about capabilities at the right price. And of course, they may comparison-shop.

"Let's say Jordan wanted an anti-tank weapon from the US. Are they also going to look to see what they are going to get from another country?" Landay said. "Then quite frankly, they use that in discussions with us sometimes: 'What about cost, what about training, what about support?'"

Washington and Amman have a long history of military cooperation, which has sent Jordan military aircraft, ground vehicles and weaponry, particularly in recent years.

Jordan's status as a major non-NATO ally gives it access to excess US defense articles, training and loans of equipment for cooperative research and development. Since 2012, it has acquired roughly 200 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, three Cobra helicopters, a C-130E Hercules, more than 20 M88A1 recovery vehicles, and more than 50,000 rifles and machine guns of various types.

US modernization grants have helped the Jordanian military obtain advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and upgrades for a fleet of some 70 to 80 F-16 fighters, which it has used to pound Islamic State targets in Syria.

In 2013, the US deployed Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 fighter jets to Jordan ahead of international military exercises there. The missiles stayed behind as a bulwark against Syrian militants.

Some 1,700 US military personnel are stationed in Jordan, and it has roughly 85 combat aircraft, including at least 60 F-16s. Jordan's fighters flew alongside US planes striking the Islamic State group's front lines around the besieged Syrian city of Kobane.

Since the early 1950s, the US has provided more than $13.8 billion in economic and military aid. The day before al-Kasasbeh's death became public, the US agreed to expand aid from $660 million per year over the last five years to $1 billion per year over the next three.

Announcing the deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Jordan's Syrian refugee crisis, and the US-Jordanian partnership on military training and international peacekeeping, among other areas.

In addition to security assistance, the US has provided more than $360 million per year since 2010 in economic support, and more than $550 million in supplementary direct budget support between 2012 and 2014 to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis.

*Defense News

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