U.S. Marines cast long shadow near Syrian fighting

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Maritime raid force Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire M1911 MEUSOC .45-caliber pistols at a range in Jordan on Sunday during exercise Eager Lion, an annual event designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance security and stability in the region. (Photo by Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone/ Marine Corps)

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit landed in Jordan recently, putting the bulk of its 2,400 personnel on land to participate in Exercise Eager Lion. It’s an annual event designed to improve security in the region and relationships between the two militaries.

As MEUs frequently do, however, the unit has cast a long shadow across the region. Ongoing fighting in Syria between government forces and rebels has gripped the region, leading to some foreign media reports questioning whether the Marines have been stationed along the Syria-Jordan border for the sake of security. Take this one:

A large American military force disembarked Tuesday, June 4, at the southern Jordanian port of Aqaba – ready for deployment on the kingdom’s Syrian border, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report. The force made its way north along the Aqaba-Jerash-Ajilon mountain road bisecting Jordan from south to north, under heavy Jordanian military escort.

Our sources disclose that this American force numbers 1,000 troops, the largest to land in Jordan since the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2012. They are members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force carried aboard the USS Kearsage amphibious assault ship, which has been anchored off neighboring Israeli Eilat since mid-May. Upon landing, the marines took to the road in a convoy of armored vehicles including Hummers.

Washington and Amman have imposed a blackout on their arrival. The Pentagon has only let it be known that the annual joint US-Jordanian “Eager Lion 2013″ military exercise is due to begin later in June and last two months, with the participation of US F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile defense systems.

It’s hardly the first time that Marines arriving in a region has led to questions in other countries about their plans. However, here’s Capt. Lucas Burke, the 26th MEU’s spokesman, on the unit’s plans:

The 26th MEU is in Jordan taking part in Eager Lion ’13; we’ve off-loaded a large part of the MEU to conduct bilateral training across the range of military operations with our Jordanian partners in the southern part of the country. Our participation is not related to anything in Syria, as we’ve been planning our participation since the last one ended with the 24th MEU.

By conducting bilateral sustainment training, it’s a two-for-one win as we continue to hone those skills critical for instantaneous response to a crisis, and at the same time be able to train with foreign nations to enhance interoperability in conducting their own missions.

There’s more in a Marine Corps news release published today available here.

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I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

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