By Judson Berger, ,
Published May 02, 2016
The State Department denied a request last year to potentially send unarmed Predator drones to Jordan arguing that the kingdom was not a strong enough ally, according to a U.S. congressman who is now urging the administration to reverse the decision as Jordan escalates its fight against the Islamic State.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., fired off a letter to President Obama saying it is "absolutely critical" that the U.S. provides Jordan what it needs to fight ISIS, echoing a bipartisan call on Capitol Hill. Jordan's King Abdullah II visited Washington earlier this week, just as a video was released showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive by ISIS.
According to U.S. lawmakers who met with him, Abdullah appealed for more support in getting everything from ammunition to night-vision equipment, as Jordan takes the war to ISIS.
Hunter said in his letter that the surveillance drones, too, are "much needed for a nation such as Jordan" and would give the country "critical mission capability in the fight against the Islamic State."
He claimed that the administration had denied a license request for unarmed Predator XP drone systems. According to a Hunter aide, the State Department denied the request from the manufacturer last fall, effectively arguing that Jordan was not a strong enough ally to receive the technology, under U.S. export control laws.
A license would be needed because such drones fall under what's known as the Missile Technology Control Regime. The license in question technically was a marketing license which would let the manufacturer start talks on potential sales.
The congressional aide said Jordan still wants the drones, as they would help with their escalating operations.
"With the stroke of a pen, somebody could fix this," the aide said.
In his letter, Hunter called for the license denial to be "reversed immediately."
The drones are made by General Atomics, which is headquartered near Hunter's southern California district. According to a 2013 report, the company planned to sell the drones to the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East countries.
Asked about the license request, a State Department official said they are restricted from discussing such "internal deliberations." But the official said "Jordan is an invaluable ally with whom we coordinate closely on a range of issues throughout the region."
Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urging the administration to speed up the delivery of other military aid to Jordan on the heels of its pilot's execution.
All members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote to the heads of the State and Defense departments earlier this week making that appeal. The U.S. is already giving Jordan $1 billion in economic and military aid this year, and has signed an agreement with Jordan boosting security assistance by up to $400 million a year through 2017.
The State Department official noted Jordan is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. security assistance. "We continue to make every effort to expedite security assistance to Jordan," the official said. "The State Department is acting promptly on Jordanian requests for military capabilities, in partnership with the Department of Defense. Jordan remains a pillar of regional security and continues to make critical contributions to the global coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL."
Asked Thursday about the calls to give Jordan more assistance, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also said the U.S. is "committed to ensuring that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners in Jordan at this very serious time."
He added: "And if that means ensuring that they are getting the security assistance that were promised, they can count on the president of the United States being a strong advocate for making sure that they get that assistance that they need."
Jordan is charging ahead with a new round of airstrikes in retaliation for the murder of their pilot.
A senior U.S. defense official told Fox News that "two dozen" Jordanian F-16s, roughly half the number in their inventory, completed a strike in Syria on Friday against "ISIS facilities."
The Jordanians were supported by U.S. fighter jets and other assets.
The location of the strike in Syria was not disclosed. All aircraft returned safely, and more strikes are expected in the near future.
Fox News' Mike Emanuel, Lucas Tomlinson and Ed Henry contributed to this report.