The Pentagon yesterday confirmed that a week-long joint Jordanian-American military exercise has just been completed in Jordan. The exercise, involving 2,300 US military troops was kept secret from Jordanians by their government. According to an American source, the maneuvers were the largest ever undertaken jointly by the US and Jordan.
Joint military exercises carried out periodically between moderate Arab regimes and the United States are extremely unpopular in Arab countries. And sensitivity to open military cooperation with the US has been heightened by the Iran arms affair, Western diplomats say. The scandal, which broke last November, involved US sale of arms to Iran, with Israel's help, in an effort to free American hostages.
Jordan, which has had close ties to the US for decades, has been outspokenly critical of the arms-to-Iran sale and of the Reagan administration's Mideast policy. Jordanian officials have repeatedly said the sale substantially damaged US credibility. Amman has sought to publicly distance itself somewhat from US policy in the region. Amman has also hinted that it will buy sophisticated weapons from the Soviet Union because the US Congress blocked the sale of such arms to Jordan.
The joint military exercise, however, is indicative both of how strong ties remain between the US and Jordan and of Amman's wish to play down those ties at a time when Jordan is making overtures to the Soviet Union and enjoying unusually good relations with its hard-line neighbor, Syria.
The Pentagon official and other US sources here who spoke about the joint Jordanian-US exercises were eager to emphasize that the maneuvers were in no way related to the increased American military presence in the Persian Gulf or to growing Jordanian concerns about Iraq's ability to contain Iran in the Gulf war. Jordan is deeply committed to aiding its eastern neighbor, Iraq, in the seven-year war. The US has stepped up its involvement in the Gulf to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers from possible Iranian attack.
Nothing has appeared in the Jordanian press about the joint exercise. Jordanian newspapers yesterday published photographs of King Hussein and his commander in chief, Zaid Ben Shaker, ``visiting an Army unit'' on Wednesday. But the caption did not say where the unit was nor what it was doing. US sources confirmed that the King observed the joint exercise on Wednesday.
No senior Jordanian official could be reached yesterday afternoon to comment on the exercise, but one official confirmed off the record that it did take place.
The US-Jordanian operation, entitled ``Shadow Hawk/Eager Light,'' involved Air Force and Army personnel from Jordan and the US. Some 2,300 US personnel participated in the exercise, according to Maj. Larry Icenogle, a Defense Department spokesman. Major Icenogle said he did not know how many Jordanian personnel took part.
``Yes, I can confirm that we are conducting a small combined operation,'' Icenogle said. ``We've done these in the past.'' Icenogle cited a joint Jordanian-US exercise conducted in 1985 as part of a series of Bright Star operations the US was conducting that year with moderate Arab regimes. A few days ago, the US announced that another Bright Star operation will be carried out jointly with Egypt during the second and third weeks of August.
According to Icenogle, some 9,000 to 10,000 US military personnel and a comparable number of Egyptian personnel took part in the 1985 operation.
``These exercises have become a matter of routine by now,'' Icenogle said. ``The objective is to allow forces of our two countries to practice joint and combined planning and to conduct basic miltary operations.''
Icenogle stressed that the timing of the exercise ``is not related to any current crisis in the region. It has been in the planning stage for quite some time,'' he said.
``The Jordanians like these exercises,'' another US source said. ``It is one of the better things we can do at a time when we can't do anything else for them.'' The source said he was referring to the US failure to sell arms to Jordan, a decision by Congress that infuriated and humiliated King Hussein and his advisers.