Jordan investigates deaths of three US soldiers
LONDON - Jordan and the United States have begun a joint investigation into the deaths of three US military trainers killed at the entrance of an airbase in Jordan, amid confusion and a Jordanian media blackout over the incident.
“The government asked the Jordanian media not publish anything new about the topic,” a Jordanian journalist said on condition of anonymity.
Prior to the blackout, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani told the Jordan Times that an investigation into the “unfortunate” incident was under way.
The US Defense Department said it was investigating the shootings of the soldiers, who were in a vehicle attempting to enter the King Faisal Air Base in Jafer, in the southern Bedouin city of Maan.
The soldiers were deployed as part of a training mission aimed at destroying the Islamic State (ISIS), said the US Army, which maintains about 2,000 personnel in Jordan.
The Pentagon identified the dead soldiers as Staff Sergeant Matthew Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas; Staff Sergeant Kevin McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona; and Staff Sergeant James Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas.
A Jordanian non-commissioned officer was injured, Jordan’s official news agency Petra reported. There were conflicting reports on whether the injured Jordanian was the shooter. An unnamed official from the Jordanian Army threatened legal action against anyone circulating the names of those involved in the incident, Petra said.
The circumstances of the shooting are unclear and the number of people involved in the incident is unknown. Initial reports in Jordanian media said the vehicle was speeding towards the gate of the airbase but later reports dropped the speeding reference.
“There was an exchange of fire at the entrance to the base after an attempt by the trainers’ vehicle to enter the gate without heeding orders of the guards to stop,” a Jordanian military source told Reuters. It is not known if the driver of the car was Jordanian or American.
Reports in Arab media outlets suggest that the US trainers were shot by one guard, who is from the Jafer area. The suspect was taken into military custody, his family was quoted as saying, adding that he does not belong to any political or ideological groups.
Unidentified sources quoted in Arab media said that the guard was following procedure, which requires him to fire at any one attempting to enter the base without permission.
US and Jordanian security sources told Reuters they are not ruling out the possibility of political motives in the attack, a reference to a rising anti-American sentiment in the region as well as the infiltration of extremists into the army.
“What is worrying is that if this (shooting) turns out to be deliberate it would be much more damaging than if this was a suicide or terror attack on a base because it was perpetrated by someone within the Jordanian military,” a Jordanian security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
It would not be the first time. In November 2015, a Jordanian Army officer killed two US government security contractors and a South African near Amman before being shot. Jordanian authorities said the assailant in that shooting was a “lone wolf”.
Last June, an Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bomber killed six Jordanian border guards after he drove his car into their post on the border with Syria. Another attack in June was carried out against a Jordanian intelligence facility near Amman, resulting in the death of five people.
Jordanian officials speaking privately to the New York Times said that initial indications suggested the airbase shooting was the result of confusion or misunderstanding rather than a deliberate attack.
But James R. Moriarty, the father of one of the killed soldiers, expressed doubt over the American and Jordanian narrative on the death of his son, known as Jimmy, whom the US Army said was killed in a “friendly-on-friendly” engagement.
“I get so tired of people in the (US) government lying about what happened and, if the Jordanians on that base killed my son, I want to know it and I want the American public to know it,” Moriarty told the New York Times. “These guys (US soldiers) had years in Jordan, were highly motivated, bright. It has all the indices of being a deliberate attack.”
The slain soldier’s sister went further, expressing doubt on the US presence in the region. “[Jimmy] was a proud soldier and loved his job,” she wrote on Facebook, “but he was sent to fight a war that we shouldn’t be fighting.”