The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the only country whose army has taken up the challenge to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in two arenas outside its borders – Iraq and Syria. The campaign, initiated by King Abdullah II, and launched around a fortnight ago, may be labeled the “Silent War,” owing to the thick blackout imposed by Amman and Washington. Baghdad and Damascus go along with this shutdown on war information because there is nothing they can do to about it.
For different reasons, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States prefer to stay mum about the Jordanian campaign because it serves their own interests in undermining ISIS. So why rock the boat?
Israel also deems it prudent to stay silent on its direct involvement in the operation, in the form of air cover and real-time intelligence relayed to the Jordanian command forces in the field through US Central command Forward-Jordan headquarters located north of Amman where Israeli liaison officers are also staffed.
The Jewish state has a profound interest like Jordan in distancing the Islamists from its gates.
Jordanian commandos seek out ISIS in broad stretch of Anbar
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, Jordanian forces are battling ISIS across a 518,000 sq. km. expanse of Syrian Desert that unfolds into Iraq, Syria and Jordan. (See attached map.) Since no army in the world can control, conquer or hold a territory this size, the campaign is being fought on the move by means of mobile Jordanian commandos, Sunni Arab tribes in the Iraqi province of Anbar, American satellites and Israeli air units.
When ISIS movements are sighted, Jordanian commandos are airborne and flown by helicopters to challenge and pick off the jihadi group.
No information is available on Jordanian or Islamist casualties in these engagements.
Most of the 90,000-strong Jordanian army is strung out along its borders with Iraq and Syria on high war preparedness, except for the 1st Division which defends the capital, and two brigades deployed in the South, where ISIS enjoys a following, and the southern border with Israel.
The occasional news item offers a glimmer through the dense blackout of a war in progress.
On July 16, the only Jordanian-Iraqi border crossing at Trebil was closed until further notice. It was explained in Amman and Baghdad as action to prevent ISIS attacks on the goods trucks driving to the Gulf via Iraq.
This was just an excuse. The goods freights to the Gulf have long been diverted from overland trucks to the sea route from the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba via the Red Sea.
Jordanian forces have penetrated as far as Ar Rutba
The real reason for the terminal’s closure was to give the Jordanian army untrammeled passage free of civilian traffic into western Iraq and the Anbar Province.
A second glimmer came on July 23, when US sources unusually disclosed the transfer of 16 Israeli combat Cobra helicopters to the Jordanian army, revealing for the first time that the US, Jordan and Israel were collaborators in the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
To confuse the issue, the Americans stressed that the choppers were for “border security” and had first been sent to the US for overhaul and repairs.
Jordanian commandos fighting in Iraq have meanwhile penetrated as far as Ar Rutba, the largest district of the Al Anbar Government and the most sparsely populated, with no more than 25,000 inhabitants. It is also the westernmost corner of Iraq and the only one bordering Jordan.
Ar Rutba lies 250 km west of Baghdad, 150 km west of ISIS-held Falujah, and 160 km west of Ramadi, over which heavy fighting has been raging for a month. Small Iraqi units and large pro-Iranian Shiite militias have been struggling without success to recover this important town, which the Islamists captured in May.
Saudis aids Jordanian generals in supplying Sunni tribes arms and funds
In strategic terms, the Jordanian incursion was intended to open a second front in Iraq against ISIS to stifle the jihadis’ freedom of movement in a broad area. So far, the state of the fighting has not changed in the two weeks since elite Jordanian troops slipped across the border. But it is still early days.
Jordanian generals have taken a leaf out of the US surge tactic, which turned the tide of the Iraq war in 2006-2007 by harnessing the Sunni tribes of Anbar and eastern Syria to their effort. They give the tribesmen arms – and the tribal chiefs funds to pay the wages of tribesmen under arms.
Saudi Arabia has come to the aid of Jordan’s war initiative with funds, indirectly helping the United States.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, King Salman has put up generous sums of money to buy the loyalty and participation in the war of the Shammar, the largest and most influential Arab tribe in the region.
It is estimated to number four million members – 3 million in Iraq, more than 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, around half a million in Syria and an unknown number in Jordan.
The Shamar tribe’s control of large stretches of the Syrian Desert, including the part which covers eastern Syria, affords the Jordanian forces freedom of movement in that part of Syria.
In Iraq, Jordan uses funds supplied by Washington to buy the loyalty of the Dulaim tribes and their chief Ali Hatim Al-Suleimani.