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Jordanian border soldiers stand below a Jordanian national flag as the rainbow appears, prior to the arrival of Syrian refugees who will be crossing into Ruweishid, Jordan, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013.
The Jordanian Armed Forces Quick Reaction Force Female Engagement Team is a new platoon made up entirely of female soldiers trained for rapid response in situations where male soldiers cannot realistically engage with women encountered by the armed forces.
That could include conducting physical searches of a refugee woman at a border crossing or responding to incidents at refugee camps, according to a post published last month on the Maple Leaf, a website run by the Canadian Armed Forces that publishes material on the work of the military.
A spokesperson for the military confirmed that a team will deploy within the coming months but did not provide details, citing security concerns.
“A small team of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members (all female) will be deployed to Jordan later this year to provide training support to the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) Quick Reaction Force Female Engagement Team,” wrote Cpt. Christopher Daniel, public affairs officer with the Canadian Joint Operations Command.
“Their identity, exact numbers, and exact location will not be disclosed at this time due to operational security considerations. Also, they will not conduct media engagements at this time.”
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Female engagement teams were first used by the American military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They started out largely as an ad-hoc effort, using women already deployed on existing operations to speak and work with local women.
Strict cultural norms prevented male soldiers from talking to local women and as a result, opportunities were missed to both provide and gain information.
The first full-time American female engagement team arrived in Afghanistan in March 2010.
They were quickly followed by a British team in October 2010.
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According to a 2011 NATO presentation on the teams, their duties ranged from providing information on enemy activity back to their units, communicating messages meant to educate and influence the public through the women in local communities, conducting security searches of women and conducting medical outreach.
Daniel did not say what kinds of training the Canadian female soldiers will provide.
He did, however, note the training will focus on how the Jordanian female soldiers can take the lead in situations where men might not be able.
“The specific types of training are not ready to be discussed yet as they are still in the planning stages,” he said.
“The training will be geared towards enabling the JAF Quick Reaction Force Female Engagement Team to respond in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner to security tasks, enhancing operational effectiveness.”
Jordan, as a country that is relatively stable and among the most progressive in the Middle East, has been a key recipient of Canadian humanitarian and security support in recent years, particularly since the rise of the so-called Islamic State terror group.
A Jordanian pilot was murdered by ISIS in 2015 and in 2016, the Canadian government announced Jordan would be among the core recipients of an anti-ISIS training and support package worth almost $2 billion.
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The power vacuum caused by the Syrian civil war provided fertile ground for ISIS to metastasize as the country fell to pieces.
Roughly 1.4 million Syrian refugees fleeing the violence of both the civil war and the fight against ISIS have arrived in Jordan, which operates camps to house the refugees as they await resettlement through the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The camps have been cited as a major source of concern because of the potential they hold for radicalization, human trafficking and sexual assault of those living in them.
The deployment later this year will not be the first time Canadian soldiers will be training Jordanian counterparts.
Since roughly the end of 2016, a Canadian training team has been working with the Jordanian military to help with things like soldier skills, building infrastructure in areas of concern like the border with Syria, and providing equipment like wet weather gear and searchlights.
Another team is also working with soldiers in Lebanon.
It is not clear, however, how long the deployment of the female training unit might last.
The current mandate for Operation Impact, which is Canada’s mission against ISIS through which the training and support are conducted, expires in March 2019.
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