June 17, 2013—Amman, Jordan—The
United States will leave a detachment of F-16s and Patriot missiles in Jordan
once Exercise Eager Lion concludes on June 20, Pentagon spokesman George Little
said in a statement
released June 15.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "approved the
request from the Kingdom of Jordan," said Little. However, he also noted
that "all other US personnel assigned to Jordan for Eager Lion will depart
at the conclusion of the exercise."
For seven years, US Air Force, Royal Jordanian Air
Force, and allied aircraft and personnel have converged in the Jordanian desert
as part of Falcon Air Meet—but
this year’s iteration is different thanks to an unfolding crisis only a car
ride away from Amman.
As fighting worsened in and around the southern
Syrian city of Daraa, following the arrival of Hezbollah and Iranian militias
late this week, per Jordanian news reports, the White House announced plans to
begin arming the rebels. The US also is reportedly considering a proposed “no
fly zone” in the conflict to protect rebel groups from Syria’s potent air
US officials have downplayed connecting scheduled
military exercises with the conflict, and point to the ongoing Eager Lion
exercises as an effort to build regional assurance to allies. Jordan already is
managing a steadily growing stream of refugees from Syria, and over 1000 more
were expected last weekend. But, there is no mistaking airpower is playing a
strategic role in Washington’s decision making calculus.
While the Colorado ANG’s 120th Fighter Squadron has
long been slated as the lead US participant in this year’s FAM/Eager Lion
activities, according to USAF and US Central Command officials, an additional
deployment of F-16s from the Ohio Air National Guard’s 112th Fighter
Squadron arrived in Jordan just after the start of Eager Lion activities—doubling
the number of US F-16s in country (in addition to the RJAF’s fleet of Vipers).
The additional F-16s were forward deployed to the region and were moved
to Jordan for the duration of the exercise, according to a statement from
CENTCOM officials at Eager Lion. The additional F-16 deployment will take part
in activities that will allow US forces to “operate with, contribute to, and
learn from their Jordanian partners, all while promoting long term stability in
the region,” according to CENTCOM.