AMMAN, Jordan — Eager Lion, a 12-day annual military exercise involving 8,000 personnel from 19 countries, is underway as the civil war rages next door in Syria.
About 5,000 Americans from all services are participating in the Jordanian-led exercise, which will focus on “issues such as integrated air and missile defense and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to address current and future conflicts’ security issues,” said Maj. Gen. Awni al Adwan of the Jordanian army and chairman of the joint task force.
Jordanian and U.S. officials played down any link between the exercise and the crisis in Syria, which has raised concerns that the civil war could spill over the border. More than 250,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
“This exercise provides us with the opportunity to develop relationships and capabilities,” said U.S. Maj. Gen. Robert Catalanotti, the U.S. Central Command director of exercises and training.
A major participant in the exercise, which runs through June 20, is Expeditionary Strike Group 5, bringing the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group that includes the USS Kearsarge; USS San Antonio; and USS Carter Hall.
The land component includes a mixture of special operations forces and Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which played a role in Operation Odyssey Dawn to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya in March 2011.
“The exercise has started smoothly... the JAF [Jordanian Armed Forces] are integrating nicely with U.S. forces,” said Lt. Dawn Stankus, the Expeditionary Strike Group 5 spokeswoman.
Eager Lion includes field training, multiple live-fire exercises, reconnaissance training, and Harrier, Cobra and Osprey aircraft. Even though the exercise is taking place in multiple locations across Jordan, officials said no forces will be deployed near Syria’s border.
Last week, Jordanian officials said the U.S. was likely to leave Patriot missile batteries and F-16s in Jordan after the exercise.