Eager for Training

Jordan’s Eager Lion 17 exercise provides preparation for multinational forces


The desert ridge erupted in clouds of dust, smoke and shrapnel. Jordanian F-16 Fighting Falcons and U.S. Marine Corps Harriers had dropped their laser-guided 500-pound bombs against terrorist targets in the wilds of Jordan’s Wadi Shadiya training range.

As the fighter jets maneuvered back to base, Jordanian artillery punched holes in the enemy’s defenses before mechanized infantry — a multinational contingent of Jordanians, Americans and Italians — rolled forward to seize their objectives in the southern Jordanian wilderness.

This combined live-fire exercise was among the highlights of Eager Lion 17, the seventh rendition of the military exercise held annually in Jordan. Running from May 7 to 18, 2017, Eager Lion brought together more than 7,000 troops at 17 locations throughout Jordan.

Their common goal was to repel attacks from nonconventional forces causing problems elsewhere in the Middle East. An international coalition encompassing land, sea and air forces accomplished missions despite differences in languages, equipment, command structure and fighting style.

Divers from the Royal Jordanian Navy hold their nation’s flag during an Eager Lion 2017 event. PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS AUSTIN L. SIMMONS/U.S. NAVY

“It’s been a great exercise to test both the interoperability between the American Army, American Marine Corps, Italian forces, and, of course, our hosts, the Jordanians,” said Lt. Col. Brian McCarthy, commander of the U.S. Army battalion assigned to Wadi Shadiya. “It’s been a great opportunity for us to increase our lethality and develop some great relationships.”

The missions at Eager Lion were as different as they were challenging: divers defusing mines on the seabed near the port of Aqaba, special operations forces seizing enemy-occupied villages, army doctors treating victims of chemical attacks, military police quelling riots and combat helicopters extracting troops from rocky terrain.

Issues of border security — critically relevant owing to Jordan’s long, shared boundary with a turbulent Syria to the north — received frequent attention during Eager Lion.

“We make sure to inject realism in the exercise to let the training audience feel how it really is on the ground,” said Jordanian Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Ajarmah, whose team of multinational officers controlled the exercise scenarios from banks of computers near the city of Zarqa.

Using soft power

Recognizing that blunt military force is not enough to defeat terrorism and other threats, Eager Lion also drew attention to political, diplomatic and informational means of maintaining peace.

At a senior leader seminar hosted by Jordanian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat, commanders from 17 nations discussed the necessity of building better societies to blunt the appeal of groups like Daesh.

Gen. Freihat urged countries to work together toward a comprehensive solution during this time of “radical transitions” in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen. That solution must deprive terrorists of money and wage a war of ideology against them.

U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of United States Central Command, cited the “gray zone” that extends beyond the scope of militaries in which online propaganda aids the cause of terrorist recruitment.

“We have to find ways to compete more effectively in this gray zone,” Gen. Votel told the seminar attendees.

For the first time in Eager Lion’s seven-year history, exercise planners included a leaflet drop and radio broadcasts designed to persuade civilians to oppose a fictional terrorist group named “M9” and modeled on Daesh. A team of Jordanian and American Soldiers fashioned the material using words and images specially approved by Jordanian military imams.

Jordanian Armed Forces UH-60 helicopters demonstrate evacuating Soldiers during a live-fire event at Eager Lion. SGT. 1ST CLASS SEAN FOLEY/U.S. ARMY

“Citizens, please stay in your homes,” one broadcast script read. “Coalition forces will be conducting airstrikes to eliminate M9 near your area. We want you to remain safe and with your families.”

Toward the end of the exercise, in the name of realism, the team dropped thousands of informational leaflets from the door of an aircraft 500 feet above the ground.

“Interoperability is very important,” Brig. Gen. Al-Ajarmah said. “Operational folks may ignore humanitarian, political and strategic considerations. We need to coordinate all our agencies to send the proper message.”

Jordanian Sgt. Ahmed Shadifat said he benefited greatly from the collaboration among coalition partners. “We learned how to prepare a message and use it in the dissemination of many types of documents,” he said. “Depending on the target audience, we learned how to prepare a script and use and design the leaflet. We learned how to use loudspeakers.”

The exercise will help the military create effective messages, said Jordanian 2nd Lt. Mohammad Al-Khawaldeh. “We can respond and save effort and time by sending the right message in the right way.”

Multinational character

Although Jordan and the U.S. represented most Eager Lion forces, personnel from more than 20 other countries also participated. They included forces from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A company-size contingent of Lebanese troops — 70 Soldiers mostly attached to special operations units — advanced their fighting skills in the Jordanian desert.

Lebanese Staff Col. Omar Mejalled, a deputy company commander who helped direct his forces from a base in northern Jordan, praised the exercise for providing opportunities to learn new tactics from some of the best militaries in the world while using advanced weaponry.

“In Lebanon, we have one basic plan and rule of engagement; here, we learned that each battle is unique and has its own rules of engagement,” Col. Mejalled said. “One of the advantages of international partnerships is learning from each other to improve strategies. We selected three missions that we think will be very beneficial for our forces — border protection, the use of quick reaction forces, and search and rescue.”

Pakistan supplied officers for a command post exercise, including Lt. Col Shaid Abid, on loan from Pakistan Army General Headquarters to conduct planning and analysis for the generals commanding forces at Eager Lion.

The Jordanian 77th Marine Battalion practices riot control with U.S. Marines during Eager Lion. STAFF SGT. VITALIY RUSAVSKIY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

“It’s been very fruitful for me since Pakistan’s Army doesn’t operate on such a large scale,” Col. Abid said. “When I get back home, I will take these new ideas in case we need to work as part of a large coalition.”

Also engaged in planning was a delegation from Iraq led by Staff Brig. Gen. Yaser Almashadani, who emphasized how much Eager Lion scenarios resemble conflicts in the real world.

“We learned many good tactics that we can apply to the war against Daesh,” the general said. “Meanwhile, we share our solid, real-world experience in fighting terror on the ground, especially dealing with internally displaced persons and combating terror groups in an urban environment. This experience was very much appreciated by all participants.”

The global reach of the Eager Lion coalition was exemplified by a flyover by two B-1B Lancer bombers that traveled nearly 25,000 kilometers from a base in the middle of the U.S. to the training grounds of Jordan. The nonstop flight took 35 hours and required the jets to refuel four times in midair.

“For any of our bomber crews, this exercise presents an excellent opportunity to pursue engagements with the Jordan Armed Forces and other partners to better address common threats to regional security at the operational level,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, commander of the U.S. 8th Air Force.

Ideology and religion

As tanks rumbled on the ground and jets streamed overhead, the Jordan Armed Forces graduated 18 young officers from its latest class of military imams. They were infused with the message, validated by His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, that Islam is incompatible with violent extremism as practiced by groups such as Daesh and al-Qaida.

The ceremony at the Prince Hassan College for Islamic Studies drew hundreds of family members who watched the crisply dressed graduates in their white shirts, navy blue jackets and gold buttons receive degrees from their superiors. The college is the first institution in the Muslim world dedicated to training military imams.

“The war that faces our nation nowadays is the war of ideology, and the tools needed to win are education, the proper ideology and good training for the leaders and imams among all military personnel,” Jordanian Staff Maj. Gen. Sabir Taha Almahayra said at the ceremony.

Eager Lion will resume for the eighth time in April 2018. Even when Daesh is defeated in Iraq and Syria, the region can expect little respite from the threat of violent extremism. That realization was highlighted by commanders at Eager Lion, including Brig. Gen. Khaled Shar’rah, director of the Jordan Armed Forces Joint-Training Directorate.

“These circumstances that the region and the world are experiencing, which are related to terrorism dangers that distort our divine religion, urge us to combine efforts, joint cooperation and exchange of expertise in order to counter terrorism in all its forms and types,” the general said.