Confirmed: Pentagon deploys special forces to Jordan-Syria border
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has confirmed that US troops have been dispatched to the Jordan-Syrian border to help bolster the former’s military capabilities in case violence escalates in the volatile region.
”We have a group of our forces there working to help build a headquarters there and to insure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all the possible consequences of what’s happening in Syria,” Panetta said.
Panetta’s comments came during a NATO conference of defense ministers in Brussels, where he said the US had been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and help the country deal with Syrian refugees crossing over the border.
The US has previously used Jordan as a base for other Syria-related military activities. In May of this year, Washington held military drills in Jordan dubbed ‘Operation Eager Lion,’ which saw around 12,000 troops from several nations participate in undisclosed training exercises.
The Obama administration denied accusations in the Syrian media that the exercises were a threat against President Assad, and maintained that the action focused on the treatment of refugees, anti-terrorism tactics and naval interception of smuggling vessels.
Following the operation, a small US contingent stayed behind to establish the center in Amman, paving the way for the arrival of more personnel.
“We have been working closely with our Jordanian partners on a variety of issues related to Syria for some time now,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. Citing Washington’s concern over Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, he said that the US has been planning “various contingencies, both unilaterally and with our regional partners.”
The Syrian conflict took an unexpected turn last week when mortar fire struck across the border at neighboring Turkey, sparking outcry from the Turkish government which subsequently returned fire. Turkey deployed 25 new F-16 fighter jets to reinforce its borders this week as NATO pledged support if the conflict spills into the country again.
Since uprisings against the embattled President Assad began last year, the UN estimated that more than 20,000 people were killed in the conflict and some 700,000 fled Syria to seek refuge in neighboring countries.