By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - The Jordanian army said it downed a drone heading from Syria on Monday in the third such incident thi s month, while officials said an increase in weapons being smuggled across the border was raising concerns about a new Iranian-instigated threat beyond drugs.
The army said in a statement that the drone was brought down in its territory but did not say what it was carrying. Officials have recently revealed weapons were being smuggled as well as narcotics by drone.
Jordanian officials said the increasing use of drones carrying explosives was adding a new dimension in a relentless cross-border billion-dollar drug war the staunch U.S. ally has long blamed on Iranian-backed militias that hold sway in southern Syria.
"This is Iranian targeting of Jordan helped by the presence of their militias near our border. It poses a security threat that goes beyond drugs," Samih Al Maitah, a former minister familiar with developments along the border said.
Syria is accused by Arab governments and the West of producing the highly addictive and lucrative amphetamine captagon and organising its smuggling into the Gulf, with Jordan a main transit route.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government denies allegations by Jordan and the West of its involvement in drug-making and smuggling, or complicity by Iranian-backed militias protected by units with the Syrian army and security forces.
Iran says the allegations are part of Western plots against the country.
Jordanian officials say talks with senior Syrian officials to curb Iranian-run smuggling networks face hurdles with the inability of Damascus to impose order over a southern region where a state of lawlessness prevails.
Jordan, which has intensified military drills along its border with Syria, announced 10 days ago it had foiled a large smuggling operation, the latest bust that officials say refute allegation by Damascus it was tightening controls along the border.
During a visit by the top U.S. general last week, Jordan raised getting more U.S. support for its efforts to curb drug trafficking by Iranian militias and Syrian army units linked to it, Jordanian officials say.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed in an interview with state-owned Al Mamlaka TV that Washington was working closely with its ally to provide equipment, training and advice to deal with the growing drug trafficking threat.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bill Berkrot)