Jordan’s military said it shot down a drug-laden drone coming from Syria early on Tuesday in the latest incident of narcotics smuggling along the country’s northern border.
Jordanian border guard forces spotted the drone and shot it down inside Jordanian territory in cooperation with the military and police counter-narcotics department, the army said in a statement.
The drone was found to be carrying half a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, the statement read.
Why it matters: Jordanian security forces have redoubled efforts to crack down on drug smuggling along the kingdom’s 375-kilometer (233-mile) desert border with Syria, where various militias and elements aligned with the Syrian government have turned to narcotics trade to fund their activities.
The Jordanian border zone has seen a number of incursions and even skirmishes in recent years as smugglers linked to Hezbollah and other factions have sought to access lucrative markets in the Gulf.
In January 2022, Jordanian security forces engaged in a pitched firefight with dozens of smugglers northeast of the city of Mafraq. The battle left at least 27 smugglers and a Jordanian Army officer dead.
The kingdom’s security forces found Syrian Army identification cards among some of the bodies, Al-Monitor previously reported.
“The Jordanian armed forces will continue to deal with resolve and force against any threats to the borders and any attempts to destabilize the country and terrorize its people,” read Tuesday’s statement by the Jordanian Armed Forces.
Narcotics — and in particular an amphetamine known as Captagon — have increasingly become an economic lifeline for factions within the Bashar al-Assad regime amid crippling Western economic sanctions over his government’s conduct in Syria’s civil war.
Tuesday’s statement by the Jordanian military did not accuse any party of responsibility for the drone. But Jordanian officials have accused Iran-linked militias in Syria and the Syrian regime of complicity in the drug trade before.
Damascus has denied any involvement in the trade. As part of talks to re-admit Syria into the Arab League after more than a decade of isolation, Damascus agreed last month to cooperate with Jordan and Iraq in fighting against drug trafficking across its borders.
A prominent Syrian drug trafficker was killed in a suspected Jordanian airstrike in southern Syria following the announcement.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Marai al-Ramthan was killed along with his wife and kids when a strike hit a house in the eastern countryside of Suwayda. Ramthan was known as a major regional drug lord, reportedly with connections with Hezbollah.
On the same day, another strike hit a facility used by pro-Iranian groups to manufacture and store drugs for smuggling to Jordan, according to local reports.
The United States has publicly accused Assad and his supporters, including Hezbollah, of profiting from the drug trade. Last June, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the Assad regime earned approximately $5.7 billion from drug shipments in 2021 alone.
In March this year, the United States and the United Kingdom slapped sanctions against six individuals — four Syrians and two Lebanese — over their alleged involvement in the production and export of Captagon.
Millions of Captagon pills originating from Syria are regularly seized in the Gulf and in Europe.
Jared Szuba contributed reporting from Washington.