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 forces.
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.?