A Western-led training and security mission in Jordan is facing renewed focus after a deadly Islamic State-led attack last week in the tourist city of Karak killed a Canadian woman and nine others.
But, despite the fact that a Canadian training unit arrived in the country last August, the mission to prepare the Jordanian Armed Forces has yet to get underway. And, as the Islamic State is losing increasing territory within Iraq and Syria, that mission is about to become more relevant than ever.
Ottawa dispatched teams of Canadian personnel to Jordan as part of its revamped mission to fight the Islamic State in the region, and to boost security for regional allies. The Canadian deployment will augment American troops already in the country and will consist of “surge teams” deploying additional Canadian service members “as required to provide training and assistance,” Canadian Forces spokesperson Captain Vincent Bouchard said in an email to VICE News.
While the Canadian Forces team has yet to finalize the details of its training mission, but that it could involve providing non-lethal military equipment and training to improve Jordan’s ability to secure its border with Syria.
When Canada ended its bombing mission in Iraq and Syria last February, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion announced that Canadian military resources would be re-routed to help stabilize Jordan and Lebanon.
The Karak attack, for which IS claimed responsibility, is the latest in a wave of violence that highlights the threat of militant Islamic groups in the kingdom, which has been a strong ally of the international military coalition against IS.
Jordan could be at risk, as the group looks to step up attacks outside of its makeshift borders in Iraq and Syria. Presently, IS faces an organized effort to retake Mosul in Iraq, and will soon see a push to dislodge them from their de facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria.
Dion, in announcing Canada’s new mission, said Jordan and Lebanon were at a “tipping point” and needed Canada’s help to withstand the pressures of the Syrian civil war. A Canadian Forces representative confirmed that another Training Assessment Team is also present in Lebanon.
Despite the lack of detail on the mission, even four months after arriving in Jordan, Bouchard said the operation is on schedule. An update on the team’s progress will be made available “when all parties involved are ready to do so,” he said. No timeline was given.
Attacks in recent months have targeted the border, including one in June claimed by IS in which seven Jordanian soldiers were killed. The terrorist organization has made no secret of the fact that, as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, they are looking to expand attacks against the West and its allies.
Even with the outside help that it is currently getting — more than a billion dollars in direct military aid from the United States — IS remains a draw within Jordan’s borders. The think tank Crisis Group reports that Jordan is the third-highest contributor of fighters to IS, with as many as 2,500 Jordanians fighting for jihadist groups in Syria.
Military representatives declined to make team members available to media. Nor would they confirm the size of the team, citing operational security concerns
With violence against foreign military trainers in Jordan spiking over the last year, the caution is unsurprising. In November 2015 a Jordanian police officer killed two American trainers. Then last month, Jordanian soldiers shot and killed three U.S. military trainers at a Jordanian air base in a mysterious incident neither side has fully explained.
“There have been five Americans killed in uniform by Jordanian officers,” said David Shenker, head of the Arab Politics Program at the Washington Institute think-tank. “That’s not a small number.”
Like other security services in the region, Shenker says, Jordan’s army and police services are vulnerable to infiltration by militant groups and the self-radicalization of individual service members.
But despite the challenge, Canada brings deep experience to military training missions, says said Houchang Hassan-Yari, a Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.
“Canadians are very capable at these kinds of missions,” he said, noting similar engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Shenker warns that military training is just one piece of the puzzle in curbing the violence. He says a faltering economy, sky-high youth unemployment and a disorganized approach to tackling root causes of radicalization all play into the hands of militant Islamic groups.
“Until now the kingdom hasn’t had anything like a program to counter violent extremism.”
The Canadian government says its response to the Syrian civil war addresses some of these causes. That includes $1.6 billion earmarked for a mix of humanitarian, security and development aid that is intended to promote employment and economic growth in Jordan and Lebanon.
The training mission follows previous Canadian military and development assistance to Jordan. In 2015 after IS conquered vast swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a commitment of training and equipment to help Jordan respond to terrorist violence. The following year Harper pledged $105 million in development aid to help Jordan host the growing number of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.