ISRAELI SPECIAL FORCES IN JORDAN
March 17, 2003
ISRAELI SPECIAL FORCES JOIN "SECRET FRONT" IN JORDAN
By Ian Cobain and Stephen Farrell
AS HUNDREDS of thousands of men and machines mass in Kuwait, a highly
secretive military build-up is also under way on President Saddam
Hussein's western flank.
Special forces from the United States and Britain have begun to
conduct long-range reconnaissance missions from their bases along the
113-mile border between Iraq and Jordan, military sources have told
The Times. Remarkably, Israeli forces are also said to be involved.
Jordan is highly sensitive about military activity in a swath of land
50 miles deep along its border with Iraq, where residents talk of the
rumble of transport aircraft landing at remote airstrips.
Jordan acknowledges that American troops are there, but insists they
are to defend its own territory and airspace.
One Western military expert said yesterday: "It is a very discreet
operation, but the special forces are certainly there. You may not
see any tanks dashing across the border from Jordan when the war
begins, but there will be significant special forces activity.
"These forces are already providing targeting information on Iraqi
assets so called Scud-hunting and as they push east towards
Baghdad, you can expect to see a very fluid front line."
The secrecy has two objectives: to keep Iraq guessing and to avoid
provoking a Jordanian population bitterly opposed to the coming war.
On Saturday, about 5,000 people chanted "no to foreign troops in
Jordan" as they demonstrated in Amman.
The US Air Force is already targeting Iraqi positions in the western
desert and on Friday a B1B bomber was used for the first time to
attack an installation just across the border.
At least 5,000 US troops are already in Jordan, according to an
official source in Amman. One Western diplomat in the capital said,
however, that the true figure was nearer 7,000. Thousands more are
expected to arrive soon, and although some will be training Jordanian
Armed Forces and manning the three Patriot anti-missile batteries
defending Amman and the northern city of Irbid, about half are
thought to be special forces troops.
Marwan Muasher, Jordan's Foreign Minister, conceded last week that
the number of foreign troops may have risen to 2,000 or 3,000.
"We are not denying that there are special forces troops in Jordan,
we are not denying that there are US troops in Jordan . . . but I
want to make it absolutely clear that their presence is for purely
defensive purposes," he said.
"There are no troops for any offensive operations, and there are no
troops in the tens of thousands, as has been reported in the press.
"We have made it clear that we are not participating in this war."
Scattered among the Americans are an estimated 100 British special
forces troops, some of whom are thought to be from the Royal Marines'
Special Boat Service (SBS), the Marines' equivalent of the SAS.
Intriguingly, members of Sayeret Matkal, Israel's commando force, are
also said by Western military experts to have carried out covert
reconnaissance operations inside the Western Iraqi desert. They are
thought to be pre-empting a repeat of the first Gulf War when Saddam
fired 39 Scuds at Israel.
In return for its political gamble, Washington has promised Jordan an
economic aid package worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more,
according to one official source in Amman.
King Abdullah has said that he is confident that Jordanians will
benefit "economically, politically and strategically" from the
pragmatic position that he is taking.
But the official source added: "We wish we had a more understanding
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