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‘The King’s Own’: Royal Jordanian Special Forces

By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2021

“Out of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, ONE is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

— Heraclitis, Greek philosopher, 535-475 B.C.

King Abdullah II (officially Abdullah bin Hussein Al-Hashim) of the Hashemite (the oldest ruling, family dynasty in the world) Kingdom of Jordan is certainly unique among Arab leaders in the Middle East, as a moderate, pro-Western, pro-American, constitutional monarch, the eldest son of King Hussein II and his second wife, Princess Muna al-Hussein (born Antoinette Avril Gardiner, originally a British citizen), so he is technically half-British by birth. But he is also the 41st-generation, direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic religion.

Abdullah II was educated in Jordan, England, and the United States, graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, and served in the British and Royal Jordanian Armies, first as an armor officer, a tank company commander, and then as an AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunship (Jordan currently has two dozen of them) pilot. After undertaking advanced studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he returned home to a tank battalion as a major, later attended the British Staff College, commanded an armored cavalry battalion as a lieutenant colonel, and was promoted to colonel in 1993, commanding the 40th Brigade. He married Rania al-Yassin (now Queen Rania), of Palestinian descent, but born in Kuwait, that same year.

In 1994, Abdullah assumed command of the Jordanian Special Forces and other elite units as a brigadier general, and restructured them into the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in 1996. He was promoted to major general in 1998. His father, King Hussein, died of cancer on February 7, 1999, and Abdullah II officially became the new king at the age of 37. His wife, Rania, was then the youngest queen in the world, at the age of 29.

As king, he serves as commander-in-chief of the Jordanian Armed Forces, and he believes in a powerful, military presence, advocating high-technology quality over quantity. In fact, he established the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) in 1999 “to provide an indigenous capability for the supply of scientific and technical services to the Jordanian Armed Forces.”

Abdullah still trains with the army occasionally, and hosts a biannual, Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX) at King Abdullah I (Emir of Transjordan from 1921 to 1946, and then King of Jordan from 1946 to 1951) Air Base in the Marka area, near Amman, the nation’s capital. In 2015, Business Insider magazine noted that “the warrior king...has clocked 35 years of military service...a total badass.” He has received three honorary knighthoods of the United Kingdom, and the 2018 Templeton Prize, of £1.1 million ($1.5m) from the United Kingdom, “celebrating scientific and spiritual curiosity,” for having “done more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living, political leader.”

King Abdullah II is protected around the clock by the Jordanian Special Royal Guard Command, similar to the U.S. Secret Service, but they are an elite unit of soldiers instead, wearing the HyperStealth KA2 Royal Guard Woodland Digital camouflage pattern, and green berets. The Royal Guards are armed with LWRCI (of Cambridge, Maryland) M6A2 Six8 PSD (Personal Security Detail) carbines, with compact, eight-inch barrels, firing the 6.8x43mm Remington SPC II cartridge, and Glock-17 or -19 handguns.

During the anti-ISIS bombing campaign of Operation Inherent Resolve from 2014 to 2019, Jordan was a willing and effective, coalition partner, providing their own American-made, F-16AMFighting Falcon multi-role jet fighters (they have 58 of them) for offensive missions into Syria, despite losing one fighter in late 2014. The Jordanian pilot was captured by ISIS terrorists, and was burned alive 10 days later. Jordan also hosted U.S., Belgian, and Dutch fighters at Azraq Air Base, their own F-16 base, as well as fighters from other nations, throughout the campaign.

In addition, there is a remote, joint Special Forces (about 150 U.S. SF soldiers, and some Jordanian Special Forces, as well) and CIA forward-operating base at At-Tanf, Syria, 18 miles west of the Jordanian border, along Route M2, surrounded and supported by Syrian rebels from the Revolutionary Commando Army (RCA), currently safeguarded by 200 U.S. Army infantry troops with M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles from the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team (“Old Hickory”), North Carolina National Guard, based in Clinton, North Carolina, about 38 miles east of Fort Bragg.

The CIA has also operated at least three MQ-9A Reaper ER Block 5 armed, attack drones from Jordan’s H4 (Rweished) Air Base in the northeast (their three distinctive, green-roofed, drone hangars are very clearly visible just north of the runway on GoogleEarthsatellite imagery dated May 7, 2017), which is also home for several Cessna 208B-ISR reconnaissance aircraft, Schiebel S-100 Camcopter drones, and a detachment of AH-1FCobra gunships, all from the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

The Royal Jordanian Special Forces were established on April 15, 1963, to provide reconnaissance, combat intelligence-gathering, search-and-rescue, and counterterrorism capabilities to the nation, as well as protection of key sites, and precision strikes against critical, enemy targets. They have since evolved from a parachute company to a multi-brigade-sized unit, now considered among the best in the world. At its peak, there was a Special Forces brigade, a Ranger brigade, and a Special Operations Aviation brigade, totaling 14,000 men, but restructuring and reform in 2017 due to budgetary constraints led to some significant changes, resulting in downsizing of the force.

At present, they are officially known as the Special Operations and Quick-Reaction Force, nicknamed “Al-Khassa,” (literally “the Own,” meaning “the King’s Own”) consisting of the King Abdullah II Special Forces Group, the Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ, named for the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, who maintains a very close and supportive relationship with the Jordanian monarchy) Quick-Reaction Force Brigade, and the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre (KASOTC.)

The KA II Special Forces Group is the nation’s premier, special forces unit, tasked with direct action, counterterrorism (CT,) hostage rescue, special reconnaissance, combat search-and-rescue and intelligence collection in combat. Its core units are Special Unit I, formerly the 101st Special Battalion, their principal, special operations unit, and Special Unit II, formerly the 71st Special Battalion, tasked primarily with the CT mission. There’s also a Group Defense and Protection Battalion, and a Group Training and Development Center.

The MbZ Quick-Reaction Force Brigade was formed on August 1, 2014, to include direct and indirect action capabilities, assisting and supporting the Special Forces Group. The brigade consists of the 61st (Raiders), 81st, and 91st Royal Quick-Reaction Force Battalions, with their own joint tactical air controllers for managing airstrikes, and a training center, and is directly supported by the 8th Quick-Reaction Squadron of the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF), flying 15 UH-60M Black Hawk transport helicopters in desert-camouflage (tan, green, and brown) paint schemes.

Due to budget cuts, the RJAF is selling eight UH-60L Black Hawks formerly used by the 30th Squadron to support Special Forces, as well as six MD-530Farmed Little Bird helicopters and a pair of fairly new, CASA AC-235 gunships.

The KASOTC specializes in teaching (since 2009) the very latest tactics, techniques, and procedures in special operations, counterterrorism, and unconventional warfare at its state-of-the-art, 6,000-acre compound carved out of a mountainside on the outskirts of Amman. The key element is the Prince Hashem School for Special Operations, whose mission is to train and qualify officers and NCOs from Jordan, other Arab nations, and various friendly nations on basic and advanced, special operations skills. Jordan has trained forces from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.

This training includes a Basic Ranger Course, Parachute Course, Jumpmaster Course, Freefall-Jump Course, Navigation Course, Urban Warfare Course, Pathfinder Course, Special Forces Course (13 weeks), Air Insertion Course, Explosives Course, and different classes in Tae-kwon-do, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Jordanian Sijal martial arts. Additional courses are available in English-language instruction, marksmanship, and strategic reconnaissance. Parachute training is carried out using the nation’s 10 C-130E/H Hercules four-engine transport aircraft, 15 UH-60MBlack Hawk helicopters, and selected other aircraft, including at least one Polish M28 Skytrain modified into a C-145A “Combat Coyote” special operations, short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) version.

On June 28, 2018, the 24th birthday of Crown Prince Hussein, the heir to the throne of Jordan, King Abdullah II, age 56 at the time, took his eldest son, a fellow graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy (2017) and Georgetown University (2016), and then a second lieutenant (now a first lieutenant) in the Royal Jordanian Army, to the KASOTC for a video-recorded, father-son, live-fire, shooting session, executing drills in close-quarters combat, VIP protection, and special operations training exercises.

King Abdullah, wearing HyperStealth (of Canada) Army/Air Forces, Desert Digital camouflaged pants, the standard pattern for the Jordanian Armed Forces, and a Navy-blue, Under Armour T-shirt, brought two of his favorite weapons, a JAWS (Jordan Armament and Weapon Systems) 1911 Custom pistol in .45 ACP (also made in 9mm), and a SIG Sauer MCX SBR carbine (with nine-inch barrel) in 5.56mm, with a 60-round, SureFire magazine. Prince Hussein practiced with a standard, Royal Jordanian Army, Colt M4A1 carbine that day.

Tyler Rogoway wrote for The War Zone just two days later that, “You have to hand it to him, King Abdullah (II) is a ‘lead-from-the-front’ kind of guy, who successfully acts as an honest broker for peace and stability while in a suit, and a warrior monarch ready to defend his country while in fatigues.”

Members of the Special Operations and Quick-Reaction Force typically wear camouflaged, Crye Precision MultiCam uniforms and maroon berets, appearing very similar to U.S. Army paratroopers, although Special Unit II sometimes wears all-black uniforms for CT operations. Their weapons and equipment are as follows:

Pistols: Jordanian Special Forces prefer the Glock-17 and -19 (also favored by the Royal Guard), H&K USP9, and SIG P226 handguns. Standard weapons for the rest of the armed forces are the Caracal F (Full-size) and Caracal C (Compact) pistols in 9mm, both manufactured in the UAE. The locally-made JAWS Viper in 9mm is also a standard-issue weapon. The Viper is available with a five-inch or 4.4-inch barrel, also in .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .400 JAWS Micro-Mag, and other unusual calibers. JAWS also manufactures JorAmmo ammunition for military handguns and rifles.

Assault carbines: The standard carbine is the HK416A5, with 11-inch or 14.5-inch barrel, used only by Jordanian Special Forces, in 5.56mm. M203 40mm grenade launchers may be attached to some weapons. Also widely employed are the H&K G36C Compact carbine in 5.56mm, and the HK417A2 battle carbine in 7.62mm NATO. The standard-issue carbine for the rest of the Jordanian Army is the Colt M4A1. The DPMS Panther Arms LR308 in 7.62mm NATO is the standard, designated-marksman rifle for all units.

Submachine guns: These include the H&K MP5 series in 9mm, including the suppressed MP5SD3, the H&K UMP in 9mm, and the H&K MP7A1 personal-defense weapon (PDW) in body-armor-piercing 4.6x30mm.

Sniper rifles: Special Forces sniper rifles include the Steyr SSG 69 from Austria in 7.62mm NATO, the Sako TRG-22 and -42 from Finland, in .260 Remington and .338 Lapua Magnum, and the Barrett M95 in .50 BMG, although the conventional, Barrett M82A1is also in use. The most widely-used scopes are the Schmidt and Bender (German) 3-12x50mm PM II and the S&B 5-25x56mm PM II, with Leica CRF-1200 or Vectronix PLRF laser rangefinders.

Machine guns: Heavy-duty fire support is provided by the FN Minimi light machine gun in 5.56mm, the FN MAG/M240 medium machine gun in 7.62mm NATO, and the Browning M2HBheavy machine gun in .50 BMG.

Combat Knives: The JAWS Tactical Knife (JTK) is a curved, Bedouin-style, jambiya fighting knife, with a 7.5-inch, black-oxide blade of high-carbon steel, and checkered, G-10 grips in either black or OD green. There is also a version with a Damascus-steel blade, manufactured in three different blade lengths.

Tactical vehicles: There are a variety of military vehicles available, including M998 and M1165A1B3Humvees from the U.S., Jeep J8 Patrol vehicles, the UAE-built Nimr vehicle, Jordanian-made Desert Iris jeep, Al-Thalab (“Fox”) long-range patrol vehicles, the new Light, Tactical, All-Terrain Vehicle (LTATV), and the Toyota Land Cruiser J70 from Japan, as well as other vehicles, including black motorcycles.

Under the bold, exemplary leadership of King Abdullah II, a true, warrior leader, the Royal Jordanian Special Forces remain one of the most-capable and respected, military units in the Middle East, a stable, moderate, pro-Western influence in an otherwise highly volatile region, as guardians of the oldest family dynasty of monarchs in the world.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.

 
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