While American officials say the U.S.-generated land-air-sea military exercise Eager Lion 2012, held in Jordan in May, was an annual event not related to developments in Damascus or Tehran, CNN was allowed to show parts of the action. Moreover, the U.S. and Jordanian generals running the program held a May 15 news conference that publicized the start of the main parts of the expanded exercise, involving 11,000 troops from 19 countries.
Army Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, who is head of Special Operations for U.S. Central Command and who was in charge of the American forces taking part, told reporters that the exercise was the largest since the Iraq invasion. One purpose, he said, was to apply “the skills that we have developed over the last weeks in an irregular-warfare scenario.”
U.S. Navy Seabees built the joint operations center for the exercise. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, moved into the Red Sea to take part, accompanied by two other ships. Marine tanks were landed for joint training with Jordanian units. U.S. Special Operations troops participated in urban combat and counterterrorism exercises with Jordanian special forces units, while American and Jordanian army parachutists jumped together.
F-15C Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, temporarily based in the United Arab Emirates, took part from a base in Jordan, flying with Saudis and Jordanians. The jets flew eight sorties the day after their arrival “and didn’t let up throughout the deployment,” according to a June report in the unit’s publication, AirScoop.
Other forces involved came from Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
Wide public exposure is also expected for the annual International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, which will take place in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. This year’s exercise, running Sept. 16-27, will involve a record 20 countries.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s spokesman, George Little, told reporters in mid-July that the 11-day event would be “a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in the international waterways of the Middle East and aimed at promoting regional stability.” He added, “This is not an exercise that’s aimed to deliver a message to Iran.”
I don’t believe that, and certainly Tehran didn’t. The announced exercise drew this response from the commander of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari: “The United States assumes that it can affect Iran through announcing that it will hold a minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf, but it is not the fact.”