By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Jordan on Thursday launched air strikes inside Syria against suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers, Jordanian and regional intelligence sources said.
The army has stepped up a campaign against drug dealers after protracted clashes last month with dozens of infiltrators from Syria linked to pro-Iranian militias, carrying large hauls who crossed its border with weapons and explosives.
The sources told Reuters jets bombed the suspected home of a leading drug dealer in the town of Shaab in Sweida province while the other strike hit warehouses near the village of Al-Ghariya.
Both locations are in the province of Sweida near the Jordanian border
Ryan Marouf, editor of Suwayda 24, a Syrian news website, who has tracked the drug war, said a plume of smoke was seen from the border area soon after the strikes.
“The first strike targeted a leading drug dealer linked to Iranian militias and the other raid bombed a farm where drugs are stored,” Marouf said.
Jordanian officials, like their Western allies, say that Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and other pro-Iranian militias who control much of southern Syria were behind a surge in drug and weapons smuggling.
Iran and Hezbollah say the allegations are part of Western plots against the country. Syria denies complicity with Iranian-backed militias linked to its army and security forces.
Jordan has been promised more U.S. military aid to improve security on the border, where Washington has given around $1 billion to establish border posts since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Jordanian officials say.
U.N. experts and U.S. and European officials say the illicit drug trade finances a proliferation of pro-Iranian militias and pro-government paramilitary forces created by more than a decade of conflict in Syria.
War-torn Syria has become the region’s main site for a multi-billion-dollar drug trade, with Jordan being a key transit route to the oil-rich Gulf states for a Syrian-made amphetamine known as captagon, Western anti-narcotics officials and Washington say.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Chris Reese and Stephen Coates)