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A flurry of reports says the United States has deployed Special Forces to Jordan, although there is no direct evidence of such a presence, according to Stratfor, the global intelligence agency.

Washington’s belligerence toward Iraq – and the strategic advantages of having U.S. forces in Jordan – make such a deployment a distinct possibility in the future.

In a statement to the Jordanian daily Al Rai, Information Minister Mohammed Edwan denied there were American forces in Jordan preparing to carry out military operations against Iraq, Arabicnews Online reported Monday.

Edwan was responding to an unconfirmed report in the Lebanese daily Al Safir that said U.S. troops were in the country.

Washington has developed military cooperation with Amman for years as part of its regional strategy, and there have been several indications in recent months that Jordan might become a base for U.S. military operations against Iraq.

Russian military intelligence sources, as well as sources in Syria, say U.S. Special Forces are already in the country. If this is true, Washington could gain an invaluable source of information about Iraq for the duration of any future conflict.

On a strategic level, the United States may be hoping to capitalize on its strong relationship with the Jordanian monarchy to secure both Amman and Israel against an Iraqi push. The fear is that Baghdad would try to pre-empt a U.S. assault by invading Jordan and triggering a war with neighboring Israel. A deployment of U.S. Special Forces along Jordan’s eastern border with Iraq would be well positioned to gather intelligence by conducting probes into Iraqi territory.

The United States has slowly built up military cooperation with Jordan over the last several years with an eye toward a second Iraqi campaign. Starting in the late 1990s, the United States gave the Jordanian air force 16 F-16s as part of a $215 million arms transfer package that Washington promised Amman in 1996, after the government signed its peace treaty with Israel.

The United States military also conducts exercises regularly with the Jordanian armed forces. In March, a detachment from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, held a 10-day exercise called Infinite Anvil in Jordan. Involving a reported 100 Marines and sailors, the exercise included the movement of an AV-8B Harrier fighter detachment as well as the MEU’s aviation element from the USS Wasp to the King Faisal Royal Jordanian Air Base in Al Jafr in southern Jordan.

Cooperation between the Jordanian military and U.S. Marines goes back years. For instance, the 11th MEU joined Jordan’s Princess Basma 3rd Mechanized Battalion in 1998 for live-fire war games in the Qatranhan military zone about 55 miles south of Amman. The exercises, known as Infinite Moonlight, included nighttime battle training.

But from a strictly military standpoint, Jordan is not a good position from which to launch a major invasion. Since it is on the opposite side of the Syrian desert, away from the bulk of the Iraqi population, the only major Iraqi targets to which Jordan provides access are a limited number of military installations. Launching a massive mechanized invasion also would leave the U.S. military vulnerable to an attack on its northern flank from Syria, and logistically all supplies would have to either be flown in or shipped up from the distant Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Tactically, however, Jordan could be used as a forward operating base for U.S. commando missions to shut down Scud air bases in western Iraq. The U.S. forces could be based at the Muafaq Salti Air Base in Azraq, 50 miles east of Amman on the road to Baghdad, or the King Faisal air base, with supplies and support coming from ships in Aqaba. Such a presence would counter Baghdad’s ability to project power into Jordan and by extension threaten Israel.

The U.S. military also would be examining potential invasion routes and access points to Baghdad, including defining logistical requirements and supply needs and determining the condition of roads for a thrust across the border.

Finally, any American forces in Jordan would likely seek to gain intelligence on Iraqi military targets across the border – including installations, patrols and command and control centers – as well as identify and observe the potential infiltration of Iraqi agents and sympathizers in Jordan.

Washington’s fears about Syria also would be eased since a U.S. presence in Jordan would serve as a deterrent against any Syrian involvement on the side of Iraq during another conflict against Baghdad.

No direct evidence confirms that U.S. Special Forces have deployed and are operating in Jordan. The reports in local media could easily be overblown, given the growing animosity between Washington and Baghdad and the close ties between Jordan and the United States. Still, the number of advantages to be had for a small commando force may make such a deployment, if not a reality now, a probability in the future.

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