US reaches out to Turkey and Jordan to help tackle Syria challenges
Big News Network.com Wednesday 10th October, 2012
BRUSSELS / WASHINGTON - The United States has sent military task force to the Jordan-Syria border to bolster Jordan's military capability in the event of violence escalating along its border with Syria, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said here Wednesday.
Addressing a NATO conference of defense ministers Panetta said, "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 US and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all the possible consequences of what's happening in Syria."
Confirming a New York Times report Wednesday of an escalation in the U.S. military involvement in the conflict, Panetta said the US has been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and also to help Jordan deal with refugees pouring over the border from Syria.
This is not the first time that the defense secretary has expressed concern about Syrian President Bashar Assad's arsenal of chemical weapons.
During a news conference held at the close of the NATO defense ministers meeting, Panetta described U.S. efforts in the Syrian border countries of Jordan and Turkey, where the numbers of Syrians fleeing to Turkey have increased substantially because of recent fighting in Aleppo.
Together the nations harbor tens of thousands of the more than 200,000 refugees fleeing the violent clash between opposition fighters and the regime of Bashar Assad.
The United States has reached out to Turkey on humanitarian and chemical and biological weapons issues, the secretary said.
"They're obviously concerned about the CBW sites as well," Panetta said, "so we've worked with them to do what we can to monitor that situation."
On the U.S. approach to the situation in Syria, Panetta said the nation, in addition to working with allies to apply as much diplomatic pressure as possible, operates in three important areas - humanitarian relief, monitoring chemical and biological weapon sites in Syria and assisting the opposition including providing nonlethal support.
"We've provided funds for humanitarian assistance and we have provided other facilities that are needed to support the large number of refuges that have gathered in these different camps," the secretary said.
On the chemical weapons concern, Panetta said, "The United States continues to work with regional partners to monitor the situation and evaluate the security of the sites".
On support to the opposition, he said: "I know there are countries in the region that are providing lethal support..but our effort is aimed at trying to work with the opposition in every way possible to try to develop their capabilities as well."
The 19-month-old Syrian conflict has in the recent weeks escalated and is showing signs of impacting neighbouring countries. Already Turkey, which has seen thousands of Syrians crossing the border into its territory, has got involved in cross border skirmishes in retaliation to Syrian missiles landing on its soil.
With the United Nations Security Council failing so far to bring all countries on board for a concerted action to stop the civil war in Syria, fears of the violence escalating and become a region conflict is growing.
Panetta said last week that the United States believes that while the chemical weapons are still secure, intelligence reports suggests that the Syrian regime might have moved them to a safer place.
The Obama administration has said that Assad's use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that would change the U.S. policy of providing only non-lethal aid to the rebels seeking to topple him.
The US military move comes just a month ahead of the U.S. presidential election, and at a time when Republican nominee Mitt Romney has been criticizing President Barack Obama's foreign policy, accusing the administration of embracing too passive a stance in the convulsive Middle East region.
Pentagon press secretary George Little, traveling with Panetta, said the U.S. and Jordan agreed that "increased cooperation and more detailed planning are necessary in order to respond to the severe consequences of the Assad regime's brutality."
He said the U.S. has provided medical kits, water tanks, and other forms of humanitarian aid to help Jordanians assist Syrian refugees fleeing into their country.
The US military personnel were in Jordan to help with the flood of Syrian refugees crossing over its borders and ensure security of Syria's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
"As we've said before, we have been planning for various contingencies, both unilaterally and with our regional partners," Little said in a written statement.
"There are various scenarios in which the Assad regime's reprehensible actions could affect our partners in the region. For this reason and many others, we are always working on our contingency planning, for which we consult with our friends."
The U.S. presence in Jordan consists of about 150 mostly Army special operations forces, some of whom have been in Jordan for several months, according to a US Department of Defense official.