Dempsey Visits U.S. Troops Serving in Jordan
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
AMMAN, Jordan, Aug. 15, 2013 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey today capped a four-day Middle East trip with a visit to deployed U.S. troops partnering with Jordanian forces here.
Some 200-plus troops are here as U.S. Central Command Forward, Jordan -- a deployed element that coordinates between U.S. and Jordanian forces, as well as among other U.S. organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department, and the roughly 1,000 members of the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force in-country.
Much of the group comes from the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division, with augmentation from other services and a sprinkling of civilians. The team in Jordan also includes liaison officers linking them to the services, special operations forces, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, USAID, Britain, Canada and France. Its primary focus is planning for Syria.
When he walked in to speak to the troops, Dempsey commented on the combined, joint team in front of him. The ability to form such teams, he said, is one of the things that makes the U.S. military great.
The chairman then paused and looked around the tactical operations center. Surrounding him were plywood walls sporting horizontally mounted, waist-high conduit pipe enclosing communications cables, among folding chairs, computer monitors, and tiers of closely-packed work stations rising like bleacher seats in formation.
“Well, there are two things that make us great,” Dempsey amended. “One is the way we can build these plywood TOCs. I’ve never seen so much plywood in my life as I have in the last 10 years.”
Dempsey told his audience what they’re doing in Jordan demonstrates the partnering approach that defines today’s U.S. military. They also serve, he said, as eyes and ears able to see and hear regional ground truth daily.
“You’re here to help us principally partner with our Jordanian teammates, to ensure and assure them that in a very volatile region, at a very critical time in their history, they can count on us to continue being their partners,” the chairman said. “You’re also here to help … senior leaders of the U.S. military to understand the issues that are cascading through this region.”
Team members who spoke to reporters on background made it clear they do understand the issues. One said, “We’re here to help Jordan remain stable any way we can.”
While the State Department has the lead on all refugee and population issues, another team member said, the military supports that work with logistical and planning skills.
All the service members who spoke to reporters asserted they do not go across the border to Syria or into the refugee camps. They are there not to take charge or direct Jordan’s response, they said, but to contribute to it.
American F-16s and Patriot missiles are partnered with Jordanian forces as a defense and deterrent, group members said. Similarly, U.S. military chemical, biological and radiological specialists work with Jordanian forces, but again in a defensive mode, as they practice how to decontaminate people, equipment and facilities.
The U.S. group is based on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. Several of the unit’s junior and mid-level leaders who talked with reporters showed a nuanced grasp of their mission: team with Jordan’s government and military to plan for contingencies, and “fill the gaps” in Jordan’s effort to incorporate yet another refugee population without alienating its own people. Doctrinally, it’s a “phase zero” operation, several noted: they are setting the conditions, and nothing else.
Jordan’s forces are professional, well-trained, and well-integrated with U.S. military leaders through school exchanges and shared deployments, one team member said, but added, “We’re very digital and they’re very analog.”
A primary effort for the unit, another said, was sharing some of the “breaking down the stovepipes” lessons the U.S. military has learned about joint operations and interagency cooperation.
Most troops at the planning group arrived in May or June, after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the mission in April. Power at the unit’s site is limited and prone to outages, and network issues early on slowed work considerably, though it now works well, one soldier noted. With no typical base support such as a commissary or an exchange, the troops turn to local options for shopping.
Dempsey praised the troops for their efforts, and thanked them and their families for their service and commitment.
“We are at our best when we can actually shape events and prevent conflict,” the chairman said. “And that’s another reason why we’re here.”
Dempsey has often said he’s impressed with how Jordan has welcomed and incorporated waves of refugees in the Middle East through the years. Palestinians, Iraqis and now Syrians have all found refuge there, but not without causing strain to the Jordanian population.
Jordanian authorities say their country has absorbed more than a half-million refugees -- about a 10-percent increase in their overall population -- from Syria since hostilities there began in March of 2011.
Throughout his trip to Israel and Jordan this week, Dempsey has consulted with defense leaders who, he said yesterday, all agree Syria is not likely to see peace soon, and a surge of conflict in the south could spike another wave of people fleeing from war to Jordan. A second danger leaders recognize, he said, is that extremist elements now opposing Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria may eventually export terrorism to other countries in the region, including Jordan.
The chairman told his audience today he doesn’t know whether the planning and coordination cell will become a permanent, named mission, or even whether the number of troops will grow or shrink. He added that the military professionals now here, with their intelligence, logistics, communications, air defense and other systems augmenting Jordan’s efforts, will help decide “what we need to do.”
Dempsey did tell the troops he expects the planning unit’s mission, like the Syrian conflict, to last for years, through several troop rotations.
“To be successful in phase zero we would have to reach a point where the Jordanians, our partners, felt themselves fully capable of dealing not only with their humanitarian crisis but also the potential that they would suddenly have to defend Jordan,” he said. “And they would have to reach that point against not only conventional but, likely, unconventional and terrorist threats.”