The Jordanian army said on Tuesday it killed several smugglers during dawn clashes that left one of its soldiers dead as a large group of drug dealers crossed the border from Syria.
The army said smugglers, who had infiltrated under cover of heavy fog, fled back into Syria in the incident only a week after three smugglers were shot dead trying to smuggle large quantities of captagon pills – a mix of amphetamines.
“A clash took place with tens of smugglers who fired at border guards and exploited poor visibility and heavy fog to cross the border. The engagement killed a number of them and the rest forced to flee deep inside Syrian territory,” the army statement said.
The army did not specify where along the 370-km (230-mile) border with Syria the incursion took place but Syrian sources said the incident occurred in an area northeast of the city of Mafraq in Jordan, Reuters said.
“We act forcefully to protect our borders and prevent any attempt to undermine our national security,” the army statement said.
Syria has become the region’s main location for a multi-billion-dollar drug trade, with Jordan being a main transit route to the Gulf states for a Syrian-made amphetamine known as captagon, Western anti-narcotics officials and Washington and its European allies say.
Jordanian officials echo Western claims that Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and militias, who control much of southern Syria, are behind the surge in smuggling and support the smugglers’ operations. Hezbollah denies the accusations.
The illicit drug trade finances a proliferation of pro-Iranian militias and pro-government paramilitary forces that more than a decade of conflict in Syria has spawned, according to UN experts and Washington.
Jordan has been promised more US military aid to bolster security on the border, where Washington has, since the Syrian conflict began, given around $1 billion to establish border posts, Jordanian officials say.
Senior Jordanian officials say they have raised their concerns with Syrian authorities and Russia, a main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Jordan, impatient with what it says are broken promises to curb the drug war, had taken matters into its own hands and conducted several strikes inside Syrian territory this year against Iran-linked drugs factories, local and Western intelligence sources said.
Officials expect the smuggling attempts, which also have used drones, to spike during the coming winter months.
Damascus says it is doing its best to curb smuggling. It denies complicity with Iranian-backed militias linked to its army and security forces.
Iran says the allegations are part of Western plots against the country.