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Pentagon Deploys Task Force In Jordan
11 October, 2012
The US has confirmed reports it has a military task force in Jordan while Turkey warns Syria of stronger response over shelling. Along with the warning, Turkey has forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport. The presence of US military specialists in Jordan and the action and warning by Turkey are clear signs that the Syria-intervention scenario is escalating.
Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, told the BBC on October 10, 2012 that an American military team was in Jordan helping it deal with the influx of Syrian refugees .
Panetta has confirmed that US troops have been dispatched to the Jordan-Syrian border to help bolster Jordan’s military capabilities .
“And we’ve also been working with them to help them develop their own military and operational capabilities in the event of any contingency there, and that’s the reason we have a group of our forces there. They’re working to help them build a headquarters there and to ensure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all of the possible consequences of what is happening in Syria ,” Panetta added.
Panetta’s comments came during a NATO conference of defense ministers in Brussels on October 10, 2012 .
But earlier in the day, Jordan’s military had denied the US military was helping the kingdom deal with the influx of Syrian refugees and other security related issues.
“News reports that the United States is helping Jordan deal with the Syrian refugees or face dangers related to chemical weapons are not true,” state-run Petra news agency cited a Jordan Armed Forces spokesperson as saying.
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.
A US defense official in Washington said the forces were composed of 100 military planners and other personnel who had stayed on in Jordan after attending the annual exercise in May. Several dozen more had subsequently been flown in, and they are operating from a joint US-Jordanian military center north of the capital, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP .
The Obama administration denied accusations in the Syrian media that the May 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.
The revelation of US military personnel so close to the Syrian conflict suggests an escalation in the US military involvement in the conflict, even as Washington pushes back on any suggestion of a direct intervention in Syria .
The development comes with the US presidential election less than a month away, and at a time when Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has been criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy, accusing the administration of embracing too passive a stance in the convulsive Mideast region.
Jordanian men also are moving the other way across the border — joining what intelligence officials have estimated around 2,000 foreigners fighting alongside Syrian rebels.
In another development, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said: NATO must not use protecting Turkey as a pretext to intervene in Syria . He was speaking at a Russian press conference. “The story goes that supposedly Syrian planes dropped bombs on Turkish territory, but everything has been over-exaggerated, even if it did really happen,” al-Maliki said .
He argued that no one was threatening Turkey , and that there was no need for them to call on NATO for support.
“ Turkey is being presumptuous, you could say, as if it were taking responsibility for solving the Syrian conflict instead of the Syrian people and wants to impose its own solution. For this reason the international community needs to stop Turkey from intervening,” he said.
Al-Maliki is on a visit to Russia , where he said that Iraq’s position on Syria is similar to Russia’s one as both countries are calling for peaceful resolution of the conflict.
While in Moscow, Al-Maliki also pushed back on allegations that Iraq allowed Iran to deliver weapons to Syria through its territory.
“This is not true,” he told Interfax on Oct. 10, 2012 , arguing that the claims are politically motivated. “We have been doing random checks of aircrafts and have not discovered any weapon aboard.”
“We have found no evidence of Iranian planes carrying weapons to Syria . We clearly stated to Syria and Iran that we allow delivery of different cargo, but not weapons,” he said.
Earlier, the US urged Iraq to close its airspace to Iranian planes.
Maliki’s latest statements are evidence that Arab opinion on the Syrian conflict is fractured.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed a visit to Ankara because of his busy schedule this month.
Earlier, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister said: “To Moscow’s great disappointment Ankara has taken a very firm stance against President Assad in the Syrian conflict, Turkey has practically become a base for the so-called’Friends of Syria.’ … Ankara’s actions contradict Russia’s calls not to take sides in the conflict.”
The BBC report mentioned before added:
Panetta confirmed a report in the New York Times that said more than 150 American specialists were helping Jordan to provide humanitarian aid and with preparations for the possibility of the Syrian conflict spreading to the wider region.
The Syrian passenger plane that has been forced to land at Ankara airport was said to have been traveling from Moscow .
The Turkish armed forces chief of staff Gen Necdet Ozel told reporters: “We have retaliated [for Syrian shelling] and if it continues, we’ll respond more strongly.” He was visiting the town of Akcakale .
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said rebels would have to stop fighting first, and that Damascus had instead asked Mr Ban to send delegates to countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who he said “finance, shelter, train and arm these armed groups” asking them to show “their commitment to stopping these acts”.
 BBC , Oct. 10, 2012 , http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19894110
 RT , “Confirmed: Pentagon deploys military forces to Jordan-Syria border”, Oct. 10, 2012 , http://rt.com/news/panetta-syria-jordan-troops-111/
 Citing Brussels datelined AP report by Lolita C. Baldor and Pauline Jelinek U.S. News & World Report , “Panetta: US sends forces to Jordan”, Oct. 10, 2012, http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2012/10/10/official-pentagon-team-in-jordan-for-syria-crisis