Strengthening Regional Marine Forces

The Regional Marine Symposium in Aqaba highlights the importance of training, leadership and equipment


With Daesh, al-Qaida and other unconventional threats menacing the Middle East and Central Asia, regional militaries are increasingly calling on their marine and naval infantry forces. These compact, flexible units play a key role in safeguarding their nations’ security against shifting threats.

Officers from the Middle East and Pakistan gathered at the second annual Regional Marine Symposium at the port and naval base in Aqaba, Jordan, in August 2017 to share tactics and information vital to these military missions.

The symposium — the theme was performance-oriented, standards-based training — attracted field-grade officers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), along with about 45 U.S. Marines.

U.S. Marines return after a simulated assault on enemy forces at Camp Titin in Jordan.

“Our motto is to ‘train as we fight, and fight as we train,’” said Lt. Col. Hisham Khaleel Mubarak Al Jarrah, commanding officer of the 77th Royal Jordanian Marine Battalion. “Our training is based on realistic premises and scenarios that we may face in the future.”

In addition to presentations by officers from the various national delegations, the symposium included sessions on training and equipment and a live-fire demonstration at Camp Titin near Aqaba.

Training leaders

Leadership is critical to a military unit’s success. Speakers at the symposium highlighted the importance of nurturing the talents of junior officers and noncommissioned officers to operate resiliently and resourcefully on the battlefield.

During his opening address, Lt. Gen. William Beydler, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central (MARCENT), argued that “good platoon commanders and good noncommissioned officers make all the difference.”

“We need to allow our young leaders to be creative,” Lt. Gen. Beydler said. “Today, I learn more from our lieutenants than I can teach them.”

Pakistani Navy Cmdr. Ghulam Shabeer agreed. “Platoon leaders and subordinate officers are the backbone of operations,” he added. “We must focus on building and maintaining their skills.”

Their point was brought home during a live-fire demonstration on the conference’s second day. Attendees set out early one morning to Camp Titin, where they watched a platoon-size unit emerge from behind a mountain to attack an enemy emplacement with rifle and machine gun fire.

Regional Marine Symposium attendees tour a U.S. Marine Corps air-cushioned landing craft in Aqaba, Jordan.

Immediately after the demonstration, U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Frank Donovan, commander of amphibious forces for MARCENT, rated the performance of platoon and squad leaders, discussing where the team had excelled and where it had faltered. Such critical analysis is crucial to improving performance, Lt. Gen. Beydler emphasized.

“We have to win the fight we’re in and be ready for the next one,” he said. “The minute an organization finds it’s too busy with operations to train, that organization will unravel in the near future. As good as we think we are, our adversary gets better every day. If we don’t improve, we’ll fall behind.”

Jordan’s Lt. Col. Hisham noted how his battalion benefited from similar training with its U.S. counterparts. “These fruits of the international partnership and the benefits of our friends’ experiences help us build a professional force with advanced capabilities,” he said.

Building connections

Much of the conference’s value lay in the bonds formed over the three days. Officers from different countries were able to share a meal, participate in meetings, view demonstrations and hold meaningful discussions.

The group visited the headquarters of the Royal Jordanian Navy for a weapons exposition and a boat tour of the Gulf of Aqaba that illustrated the port’s strategic position near Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Jordanian troops described and demonstrated the use of vehicles and weapons, including waterproof sniper rifles and pistols, designed for amphibious attacks.

Finally, the group toured the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall, moored at Aqaba, where U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy Sailors explained how they transport and launch amphibious ships, vehicles and troops on humanitarian and military missions. For Maj. Said al-Yamahi of the UAE, the visit to the ship was a highlight of the symposium. “Learning about its amphibious landing capabilities was very useful to us,” he said.

Attendees remarked on the value of personal relationships for understanding the capabilities of partner forces in the region. Lt. Col. Ayad Rashid Shaheen, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Iraq Marine Brigade expressed gratitude for the invitation to Aqaba, where he received information he hoped to apply in fighting terrorism at home.

Officers at the symposium attend a live-fire demonstration, left, and pose as a group, right.

“The more we foster the ties of friendship between military leaders in neighboring countries, the more we will see mutual understanding and joint action to establish security in our countries,” Lt. Col. Ayad said.

In an era in which terrorist organizations and other unconventional threats cross international boundaries, the response must be equally global, said Lt. Col. Ghanem Mubarak Al Romaihi of the Bahrain Defense Force.

“We live in an age of unconventional warfare and global terrorist networks, so we need an international partnership to defeat this new type of threat,” Lt. Col. Ghanem said.

A similar plea for a multinational cooperation came from Col. Kamal Nahra, executive officer of the Lebanese Armed Forces Marine Commando Regiment. Lebanon’s experience combating violent extremists from Syria offers lessons for forces across the region.

“We must preserve this international partnership to combat these cross-border threats,” he said. “Just as we need the support of our allies, our allies need our on-the-ground experience in the region.”

Lt. Col. Hisham of Jordan summarized the conference’s value for many of the participants.

“The interaction of our brothers from these participating countries was remarkable, indicating the seriousness of the debate and the success of the conference,” he said. “I’m sure that everyone will return home with new ideas and tactics for training and mobilization.”