The Pentagon announced some grim news Friday: Three US service members were killed in a shooting at King Faisal Air Force Base in Al Jafr, Jordan.
In a written statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the troops had been in Jordan on “a training mission, and the initial report is that they came under fire as they were entering the facility in vehicles.”
The service members have not been publicly identified, nor has the attacker. We don’t yet have any information as to what the motivation for the attack was, either. Jordan has been targeted by both ISIS and al-Qaeda in the past, but neither group has yet claimed responsibility for the shootings.
Even without this information, the attack underscores a basic truth about the world: America’s security partnerships around the globe leave troops at risk — even when they aren’t in an active war zone.
Training missions aren’t risk-free
The fallen troops at Jordan’s Al Jafr base were there on what the Pentagon called a “military-to-military” training mission designed to improve the tactical skills of the Jordanian military.
This program is a big deal. According to the State Department, the US devotes more resources to training the Jordanian military than almost any other in the world. Jordan’s King Abdullah, a former Air Force pilot, is a graduate of one such US training program.
This is pretty routine stuff, but it’s not completely safe. Almost exactly one year ago, a disgruntled Jordanian policeman murdered two Americans at a training center in Amman, the capital.
More broadly, Jordan is just across the border from lawless Syria, currently a hub for ISIS and al-Qaeda linked jihadis. This is part of why the US is so committed to training the Jordanian military: It sees it as an essential bulwark against the spread of extremism. At the same time, though, this also means the US is putting troops at greater risk by asking them to operate so close to a war zone.
Washington isn’t just committing forces to countries as strategically important as Jordan, which is also a close Israeli ally. The US currently has training operations in about dozens of countries around the world, ranging from relatively safe ones like Poland to more dangerous ones like Iraq.
The enormous global footprint is a practically inevitable result of America’s broader security policy.
American foreign policy is centered on the idea that Washington should be concerned about global stability, even when the US isn’t directly involved. That’s why it has alliances in places like Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East; conflicts there wouldn’t necessarily threaten the US, but Washington wants to stop them from erupting all the same.
US policymakers see training friendly militaries as one among many tools for furthering this goal of maintaining global stability. If your allies are stronger, they’re less likely to be attacked and more likely to be able to handle terrorist threats in their own countries. If their militaries are more professional, they’re less likely to commit human rights abuses — at least, in theory.
That belief is why the US sends its troops around the world, and it may well be right. But it’s not without costs — as Friday’s tragic events underscore. American service members are at risk every day, even in places where America isn’t at war.