ZARQA, Jordan (AP) — Patriot missiles were deployed for the first time at an annual multinational military exercise in key U.S. ally Jordan on Sunday, Jordanian and U.S. army officers said.
The 12-day “Eager Lion” exercises have brought together 8,000 personnel from 19 mainly Arab and European countries to bolster defense capabilities in the face of a possible flare-up from neighboring Syria.
“We don’t intend to attack anybody,” Jordanian Maj.Gen. Awni el-Edwan told reporters, while commenting on the deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles. He said the exercises would focus on border security, irregular warfare, terrorism and counterinsurgency.
Jordan has been jittery over reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, where an uprising that started in 2011 has descended in to all-out civil war.
Meanwhile, Syria’s regime and its patron, Russia, have expressed concern over the Patriot deployment.
President Bashar Assad’s forces appeared to be regaining control in recent days over areas taken by rebels, particularly the strategic town of Qusair.
Other maneuvers will focus on humanitarian relief and crisis management and are expected to involve about 7,000 civilians from non-governmental organizations engaged in providing assistance to Syrian refugees.
Jordan hosts more than half a million displaced Syrians and that number is anticipated to rise to 1.2 million by the end of the year.
Combined land and air exercises, some involving F-16 warplanes, are expected to be carried out throughout Jordan.
However, Edwan said “no forces will be deployed near the border with Syria.”
A U.S. Embassy official in Amman said this was to avoid giving any signal to either the Assad regime or rebels.
Edwan said 6 unnamed nations are also expected to engage in naval maneuvers in the kingdom’s sole southern port of Aqaba, near the borders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Neither Edwan nor his American counterpart, Maj. Gen. Robert Catalanotti, would comment on the numbers of Patriot missiles or F-16s to be used in the exercises.
Both men were also reluctant to comment on a Jordanian government request to Washington to keep Patriot missile batteries and perhaps the F-16s in Jordan after the exercises end.