By Phil Stewart and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
WASHINGTON/AMMAN (Reuters) - The United States is readying plans to resupply Jordan with munitions in the coming weeks, possibly including precision-guided arms, expediting support for the kingdom as it expands its role in airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS), officials say.
The State Department and Pentagon declined comment on any future moves to assist Jordan with requests for weapons. But several U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that planning was well underway to help replenish Jordan's supplies of ordnance.
U.S. efforts to expedite delivery of munitions and other weapons follow a vocal appeal from Jordan's King Abdullah to American lawmakers last week for greater U.S. support.
A source close to the Jordanian government told Reuters the kingdom believed its supplies of bombs are being stretched too thin as it expands its role in strikes following the Islamic State's grisly execution of a Jordanian pilot.
Islamic State's release of a video early this month showing pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh burnt alive in a cage has triggered a public backlash in Jordan and sharpened the focus of Arab allies contributing to the war effort.
Jordan is among a group of Arab countries, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, that have joined U.S. air strikes on IS, which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria. The UAE this week said it had resumed its airstrikes on IS.
The Pentagon estimated that Jordan dropped 72 bombs in the first wave of its revenge strikes in Syria last week. The kingdom renewed its bombing raids on Thursday.
CALL FOR PRECISION BOMBS
Jordanian military experts say the kingdom could struggle to sustain the intensity of the air strikes, even as Abdullah has ordered his commanders to prepare for a bigger military role in the international coalition fighting Islamic State.
He met with U.S. lawmakers in Washington last week, saying he sought precision munitions along with aircraft parts and additional night vision equipment, and noted delays in working through normal U.S. channels.
That prompted a letter from the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republican Senator John McCain, urging the Obama administration to process Jordan's requests "with a sense of urgency reflecting the pace of events."
"If the (Obama) administration does not up its game with Jordan in terms of equipment for their military, help on refugees, there will be strong pushback from Congress," Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican committee member, told Reuters.
The U.S. officials said they are working to expedite support for Jordan but declined to discuss delivery timelines for specific systems, including munitions and aircraft parts.
At his meeting with lawmakers, Abdullah remarked that Jordan's military had become adept at using unguided bombs but stressed the need for precision-guided munitions, according to a Senate source at the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Sources in the United States and Jordan say the kingdom has requested Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, which can modify conventional bombs to convert into precision-guided systems, using global position system (GPS) technology. JDAMs are manufactured by Boeing.
That request is being considered by the United States, one U.S. official said.
Anthony Cordesman, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said precision weapons bolster Jordan's ability to hit targets without causing civilian casualties.
"If you're going to have Jordan supporting the United States, as it is, in striking at the Islamic State, you want to be able to hit those targets very precisely," Cordesman said, adding that collateral damage would cause a backlash.
The United States provides more than $300 million in security assistance to Jordan annually, a figure that is expected to grow. On Feb. 3 the United States and Jordan signed a new memorandum of understanding that committed the United States to increase its assistance from $660 million to $1 billion per year for 2015-2017.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the goals were to help Jordan's armed forces modernize and bolster its ability to "counter terrorism."
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Stuart Grudgings)