WASHINGTON — As a top Jordanian official visits Washington this week, the Obama administration is doing its best to remind Congress of the military support it has given to the longtime regional ally.
The visit of Prince Faisal bin Hussein to DC this week also comes while Jordan appears to be aligning itself more closely with Russia.
In a memo obtained by Defense News, the administration lists in great detail the security assistance it has provided to Jordan over the past year.
"Bottom Line: our efforts to support this critical partner at a time of great need have exceeded 'business as usual' as we continue to work closely with the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) to identify, prioritize, and expedite urgent requests in support of Jordan's national defense and contributions to Operation Inherent Resolve," the memo reads.
The decision to outline the administration's spending on behalf of Jordan appears to be an attempt to pre-empt members of Congress who may criticize the administration as not doing enough to help an ally in the war against the Islamic State militant group, better known as ISIS or ISIL.
Jordan has emerged as a key player in the fight against ISIL, particularly as part of the US-led coalition attempting to destroy the group in both Iraq and Syria. However, strains began to appear between the US and Jordan on its view of Russia's intervention in Syria, with Jordan joining the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in welcoming Russian airstrikes against non-ISIS groups on the ground.
Those strains coalesced with an Oct. 23 announcement that Jordan and Russia are setting up a "special working mechanism" to coordinate operations in Syria. The US has so far refused to coordinate in such a way with Russia, instead settling for basic rules of flight safety between Russian pilots and those of the US-led coalition.
If Jordan draws more closely to Russia, it will likely trigger complaints from the Hill, especially in light of comments in February from King Abdullah II, Jordan's ruler.
Abdullah raised concerns with members of the Hill during a February visit over military funding from the US, both in terms of dollar value and in what he characterized as delays in delivery. That visit coincided with the release of a video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive by ISIL, giving extra heft to Abdullah's complaints that members of Congress were quick to jump on.
Abdullah is scheduled to return in December for meetings on the Hill and with President Barack Obama. Faisal is expected to visit the Hill and meet with lawmakers on Wednesday.
Sens John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed D-R.I., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, released a statement at the time citing Abdullah's concerns that "Jordan is experiencing complications and delays in obtaining certain types of military equipment through our foreign military sales system."
The statement highlighted Abdullah's desire for "aircraft parts, additional night vision equipment, and precision munitions that the King feels he needs to secure his border and robustly execute combat air missions into Syria."
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that among the items highlighted in this week's memo, the administration outlines the delivery of 1,163 night vision devices, over 500 high-end munitions, and the leasing of eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters — with a promise of more to come.
The following items are quoted verbatim from the memo:
- Providing $385 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) support to Jordan in FY 2015, which is an $85 million increase over FY 2014 and makes Jordan the third largest FMF recipient in the world;
- Executing no-cost lease of 8 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to support Jordan's border security Quick Reaction Force;
- Fulfilling the JAF's February request for F-16 munitions by delivering 252 Mk-82s, 126 Mk-84s, and 200 GBU-12s, and approved on an expedited basis the transfer from another country of 166 GBU-12 laser-guidance tail-kits and 166 FMU-152 fuses to Jordan;
- Delivering 1163 Night Vision Devices, and gained Congressional approval to provide 2736 more to the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) funded through the Counter Terrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF);
- Delivering 20,000 M16A2 rifles, 6,746 M240 machine guns, 180 M240B machine guns, and over 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition;
- Delivering 29 Hellfire missiles, with 32 more due for delivery in December;
- Prioritizing Jordan as the single largest recipient of CTPF funding, including provision of over $76M in CTPF assistance in FY 2015 and the anticipated allocation of over $200M over FY15 and FY16;
- Providing $26M in FY 2015 Section 2282 support for equipment and training to the JAF;
- Providing $147M in reimbursements for qualifying border security activities in FY14-FY15 through FY14 NDAA Section 1207 authority;
- Elevating Jordan's most complex cases to the monthly USD(AT&L)-chaired Warfighter Senior Integration Group in order to expedite key items that may involve long delivery timelines;
- Completing key work on the Jordan Border Security Project, an integrated border security surveillance, detection, and interdiction system along Jordan's borders with Iraq and Syria;
- Continuing numerous ongoing military-to-military activities, including training and exercises. We were especially pleased to support the Royal Jordanian Air Force's first attendance at the RED FLAG 2015 exercise; and,
- Supporting ongoing RJAF operations in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, including: providing targets, training on refueling operations, training on dropping precision guided munitions, and intelligence.
In addition, the memo highlights the fact the administration held the first ever Defense Resourcing Conference – Jordan (DRC-J) in Amman in October, a conference which was held to "refine our shared capacity building priorities."
That effort, the administration believes, is a key one for US-Jordanian efforts going forward — important enough that the memo notes it would be "useful for [Faisal] to hear Congressional support for this important effort to ensure U.S. security assistance contributes to a well-defined, multi-year, agreed plan."
Despite the long list of activities, Abdullah will likely continue his push for more support during his Hill visit. And he will have supporters on the Hill, including House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who recently called for the US to sell the Predator XP unmanned system to Jordan.
"We recognize that the United States cannot meet all of Jordan's requests as we will likely continue to receive requests for systems that involve technology release restrictions and/or are prohibitively expensive and could therefore distract from higher priority requests," the memo reads in what appears to be a move to pre-empt another call for Predator sales.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.