The Obama administration has made plans to strengthen the emerging Palestinian Authority army that is currently being trained at an American-built base in Jordan.
U.S. Middle East envoy George C. Mitchell has asked Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, who has been overseeing the training, to remain at his post for two more years. Dayton was due to end his three-year term at the end of 2009.
In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama intends to add a budget of as much as $55 million for training the force at the base, according to the Reuters news agency. The current budget is $75 million, and such an increase would almost double American military assistance to the PA.
Israeli officials were reportedly pleased to hear that Dayton will be staying on. “Dayton is a professional officer who takes his job very seriously,” said one defense official quoted by The Jerusalem Post. “An extension of his term is a demonstration that the administration wants to keep the situation here stable.”
Dayton and OC Central Command Major-General Gadi Shamni reportedly have a strong working relationship as well. There were concerns expressed, however, that Mitchell would use the expansion of the force as leverage to increase the takeover of the PA Special Force in other cities in Judea and Samaria.
Some 1,600 PA Special Forces have been trained since January 2008 and are currently deployed in Shechem, Jenin, Bethlehem and Hevron. The increased budget would allow Dayton to increase the number of battalions being trained, as well as increase the amount of vehicles and other equipment provided to the troops.
The United States has provided uniforms and other military equipment, as well as military personnel to train the PA recruits. According to The Jordan Times, arms are supplied solely by Arab states.
However, the new armed force is not referred to by the U.S. or the PA as an army, which is prohibited under the Oslo Accords.
American and Fatah officials are hoping the “special force” will fight terror and keep the rival Hamas faction at bay. The Hamas terrorist militia completely overwhelmed the rival Fatah loyalists in Gaza in June, 2007, surprising American military personnel who already had begun training the Fatah forces.