Join a Military Exercise and Win a Drone!

William Arkin catalogs the 19 countries participating in the “largest US exercise in the Middle East” this month.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) now says that the exercise is “the largest annual exercise in the Central Command area of operations,” supplanting Bright Star, the exercise series previously conducted in Egypt.  I guess the masters of war planning have a lot of faith in the stability and resilience of the Jordanian government, come to think of it, just like they did about Egypt.

Eager Lion, which most press reports refer to as including 17 participants, actually includes 19 participants, according to CENTCOM.   They include Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.  The exercise is touted as “building relationships,” but the 19 nations weren’t named until May 15th: I suppose it’s more like a furtive affair than a relationship.  It’s interesting to note that Turkey, previously reported as participating, evidently is not; and that Iraq is there.

Like Arkin, I’m struck by the addition of Iraq and the apparent withdrawal of Turkey from the exercise.

Particularly given this news:

Iraq is buying unmanned drones from the United States to help protect its southern oil platforms as the OPEC nation ramps up production after the withdrawal of the last American troops, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Monday.


Iraq’s 40,000-strong energy police stepped up protection to deter attacks it expected from Sunni Islamist armed groups linked to al-Qaeda. But officials long complained they were poorly equipped for the task of protecting the vital sector.

As noted, the ostensible threat these drones are targeting are Sunni insurgents. Given the current regime in Iraq and the Shia population in the south, where these drones will be used, that makes sense.

But I wonder whether it doesn’t represent a shift away from Iran. Iraq has been rather disinterested in playing the former colony, not only kicking us out but also siding with Iran last year on oil targets. But if it is participating in a military exercise targeting (even though DOD is pretending it is not) Iran, and then gets drones, it sure seems like it has changed its mind about playing client state to Iran, either.

Maybe someone has been reading about what has happened to Iran’s client state in Libya and what is in process of happening in Syria.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Per MSNBC:

    “…Media reports in Jordan claimed that the exercises were a message not only to Syria but Iran.

    However, American and Jordanian military officials strenuously denied that there were operations taking place close to Syria.

    “It’s not about Syria, it’s just a pure coincidence,” U.S. Central Command Maj. Robert Bockholt told from Jordan…”


  2. MadDog says:

    Of note as reported in this piece from The Hill blog, everybody is tight-lipped about which US drones the Iraqis are buying:

    “…Baghdad was tight-lipped on which specific U.S. drones it would be buying and how many of the unmanned aircraft will end up in the Iraqi arsenal…

    …There are only a handful of aerial drones in the American arsenal that can operate in a strictly maritime environment. One is the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft. The other is the helicopter-like Fire Scout drone and the Scan Eagle.

    Similar to the Air Force’s Global Hawk drone, the BAMS aircraft is built to withstand the harsh and corrosive ocean environment.

    The Fire Scout and Scan Eagle, which are much smaller and have a much shorter flight range than BAMS, are designed to operate off the decks of U.S. warships often miles away from land…”

    I rather doubt that the US would provide a BAMS drone given that it is at the upper end of our drone technology, and the same could be said for our Predator and Reaper drones.

    Still, one never knows, does one?

  3. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Right, that’s what I was wondering myself. Part of me says there’s no way we’re going to give Iraq something we’ve denied to Saudi Arabia. But I do wonder, then, what we gave them.

    Remember, too, that Iraq balked when State started using drones in Iraq. Is this a workaround then? With Saudi Arabia, we can use Yemen as our excuse to put drones under partial Saudi control, but the excuse in Iraq is harder–so we point to the oil fields? Especially odd bc you risk “losing” a drone to Iran, which would then have drones over the Saudi Shia majority oil fields.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Well, the US is the world’s no. 1 exporter of arms. Sophisticated weapons systems require expensive, long-term training, maintenance and support, and operating contracts. In the case of drones, it involves integrating the weapons and intel derived from them as governments use them to surveil and strike at targeted enemies of the state.

    These weapons are often provided as military or government assistance and are paid for via grants or loans, which constitute indirect USG subsidies to weapons providers (already highly profitable). That’s another way to make drone use as routine for government police and military forces around the world as the use of tasers, Glock pistols, protective vests, radios, chemical sprays and collapsible steel rods, which now comprise a routine, unremarkable equipment pack for urban police.

    Drone “sales” would be an elegant, profitable way to continue, to formalize, to routinize the “off balance sheet” presence of the USG and its outsourced contractors in these countries. Presumably, it would also leverage US intel aims in that the US would obtain digital records of drone performance and ops. The space program gave us Tang and Teflon. Mr. Obama’s continuing GWOT gives us drones.

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