U.S. supervising training of elite PA unit in Jordan
PLO veteran tells 620 soldiers they must be loyal to PA only, and not 'confront the Israeli side'.
Some three weeks ago, the Palestinian interior minister, General Abdel Razak al-Yahya, arrived in the Jordanian village of Giftlik to visit the training camp of the "special second battalion" of the Palestinian National Security force. Yahya gathered all 620 soldiers and officers belonging to the first PNS battalion to undergo training under an American program and Jordanian guidance - the first supposedly elite unit of what used to be viewed as the Palestinian Authority's army.
"Your duty is not to any organization or party, but only to the Palestinian Authority," Yahya told them.
The old general, a veteran of numerous battles and wars with Israel as a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's military wing, the Palestinian Liberation Army, and even the Syrian army, did not hide his opinion about clashing with Israel.
"You are not here to confront the Israeli side, and the conflict with it has led until now only to suffering and not to positive results. You must prove to the Israelis that you are capable of performing and succeeding."
He told the young officers, most of them in their 20s, that their objective, first and foremost, is to assist their people in contending with the threats of crime, terror and other problems.
Yahya, like others present on the occasion, could not help but feel that the new force currently taking shape in Jordan is different from everything they have seen before. Even the Israeli defense establishment is not treating this battatlion with the customary disdain it reserves for the PA's security forces.
It is not just a matter of the American training program, but also and mainly the motivation and "fighting spirit" of those soldiers, "the cream of Palestinian youth." They were sent to Jordan only in late January, for a four-month course, as part of the plan drawn up by the U.S. Security Coordinator for the Israel-Palestinian Authority, Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, to rebuild the PA security services and particularly the PNS.
Potential recruits were subjected to quadruple vetting. First the PA rejected candidates who were unsuitable because of past involvement in crime or terror organizations. Then the Israeli Shin Bet, the Americans and Jordanians considered each candidate separately. Only 20 names were struck off the list by the Israelis.
The training the Palestinian troops are receiving at the camp in Giftlik is very diverse: using guns and rifles, taking control of houses and clearing them out, conducting arrests, crowd control, using force and even lessons about human rights and military ethics. They are being trained to deal also with hostage situations.
They will move at the beginning of June to a camp in Jericho, where they will undergo an array of other training: driving, first aid and logistics. During July they are slated to get equipment and arms, and will be ready for action as of August 1.
"Dayton's baby," as some senior PA officials have dubbed the battalion, made the news recently after Israel agreed to have the soldiers deploy to Jenin on completing their training, but there is still no certainty regarding their first assignment.
This is the first battalion to undergo American training, but Dayton's plan calls for training another four battalions of similar size. Palestinian Interior Ministry officials say a second group will be able to leave for training in Jordan in early August.
Dayton and his team have accompanied the battalion since its inception. It was also they who presented the Defense Ministry this past February with the lists of equipment transfers that Israel will have to approve for the new PNS forces: cars (just recently, Israel okayed equipping PA security services with 148 pickup trucks for moving troops), uniforms, shoes, first-aid equipment and more).
Contrary to media reports until now, the Palestinians were pleasantly surprised by the Israeli defense establishment's willingness to help make the new forces' training and equipment a success, perhaps out of a desire to avoid friction with the U.S. administration.
Nevertheless, Israel has yet to approve transfer of basic equipment such as bulletproof vests and helmets. The PA initially thought of asking for night-vision equipment as well, but was persuaded by the Americans to drop it.
Dayton's team is also involved in setting up a strategic planning group at Yahya's Interior Ministry, which is responsible for all security services. The group is meant to draw up a budget and strategic guidelines for PA forces. In addition, the American team is planning infrastructure projects such as rebuilding bases and training facilities for PA troops.