Days After US Strikes Syria, Marines Enter Border Country for Exercise

Marines and Coast Guardsmen participating in Exercise Eager Lion 2017 prepare a firing line for weapons training with Jordanian and Italian forces. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin L. Simmons)
Marines and Coast Guardsmen participating in Exercise Eager Lion 2017 prepare a firing line for weapons training with Jordanian and Italian forces. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin L. Simmons)

Less than three days after leading strikes on Syria, the U.S. underlined its security interests in the region by sending 1,800 Marines from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) into neighboring Jordan.

The Marines and 1,500 sailors from the ARG, led by the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, will participate with the Jordanian Armed Forces in the 11-day Eager Lion joint training exercise to demonstrate "their collective ability to plan and project presence in a coalition environment," according to a Marine Corps news release.

Col. Farrell Sullivan, commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said the exercises would exemplify the U.S. "investment to a critical strategic partnership between two allies who share common regional security goals."

The ARG includes the Iwo Jima, the dock landing ship Oak Hill and the transport dock New York.

"This exercise," Sullivan said, "will allow us to demonstrate how we can project combat power" in coordination with the Jordanians, who share a troubled border to the north with Syria and host nearly a million refugees from the seven-year-old civil war.

The Jordanian government, which is wary of antagonizing the Hezbollah militias in Syria and Lebanon, was mostly silent on the standoff weapons strikes by the U.S., France and Britain early Saturday morning local time that hit three suspected chemical weapons production and storage facilities in Syria.

In a statement Monday, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani called for an end to Syria's civil war while avoiding mention of the airstrikes.

"Continued violence will only lead to more violence, conflict, fighting and displacement whose victim is the Syrian people," he said.

The missile strikes also called into question the continuing U.S. resolve to keep at least 2,000 U.S. troops in eastern Syria to support the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in the campaign to defeat the last remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

President Donald Trump said earlier this month that the U.S. troops would be leaving "very soon," but that was before the April 4 attacks on the town of Douma east of Damascus, killing at least 40.

The U.S. and its allies said the attack was carried out with chlorine and possibly the nerve agent sarin. Syria and its Russian and Iranian backers said the chemical weapons charges were fabricated.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he "convinced" Trump of the need to remain in Syria before the strikes at about 9 p.m. EDT Friday.

"Ten days ago, President Trump said the USA's will is to disengage from Syria. We convinced him that it was necessary to stay," Macron said, during a two-hour televised interview with several French media outlets.

Aboard Air Force One en route to Florida Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump's commitment to keeping troops in Syria was conditional.

Despite Macron's remarks, "Our policy hasn't changed," she said. "We're still committed to defeating ISIS. The president also wants the people in the region, our Gulf partners, to step up and do more, and he wants them to take on some of the financial responsibility of all of the military provided there in the region."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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