Thousands of Marines and U.S. troops kicked off a major training exercise Sunday hosted by Jordan that will include civilian evacuation operations, and chemical and biological drills, according to U.S. military officials.
Known as Eager Lion, the nearly two-week exercise started Sunday, coincidentally following U.S., French and British strikes on three Syrian chemical weapons sites. The strikes were in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack April 7 on the Syrian city of Douma that killed scores of citizens.
“Planned training evolutions include live-fire ranges, fire support coordination exercises, military working dog training, close quarters battle, military operations in urban terrain, chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear training, visit/board/search/seizure, and an Embassy Reinforcement/ Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, among others,” Capt. Natalie Poggemeyer, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times on Saturday.
Military officials would not confirm whether the chemical and biological training in the region was in reaction to any threats or recent events emanating out of Syria. However, that portion of the training has been routine during other iterations of Eager Lion.
Disembarking from the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and dock landing ship Oak Hill on Sunday, roughly 1,200 Marines with the 26th MEU will take part in the training evolution alongside several thousand Jordanian troops and other U.S. soldiers.
The entire Marine Air Ground Task Force from the MEU will be involved in training as well as U.S. Army and Navy personnel, for a total force of roughly 3,600 U.S. troops.
Despite Friday’s battering of three Syrian chemical facilities, U.S. officials admitted that not all of Syria’s chemical weapons making capabilities were destroyed in the barrage.
Jordan has been a key ally in America’s efforts to combat ISIS in the region, which at times has stoked tension between the Hashemite kingdom and the Syrian regime under President Bashar Assad.
On Saturday morning, Pentagon officials gave details on airstrikes on Syrian chemical weapons sites launched Friday by the United States, United Kingdom and France.
The annual training evolution in Jordan “is a unique opportunity for U.S. and Jordanian forces to train together, exercise key capabilities, and to pursue new ways to collectively address regional threats,” Poggemeyer said. “We’re committed to increasing our understanding and readiness to truly demonstrate we are prepared and trained to deal with crises, in whatever form they may come.”
The 26th MEU is in the region after wrapping up training exercises in Djibouti called Alligator Dagger. That exercise was abruptly shortened after two separate air-mishaps on April 3 involving a CH-53E Super Stallion and AV-8B Harrier temporary halted flight operations in the region.
The pilots and crew in those two incidents were not severely injured. Flight operations have since resumed, Poggemeyer said.
The MEU’s embarked air combat element Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced) will have a hefty role in Eager Lion conducting troop movements, as well as reduced visibility landings and low altitude tactics, she said.