Around 200 U.S. Army planners will be dispatched to Jordan as the conflict in neighboring Syria
worsens, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
Hagel, however, communicated deep misgivings about direct American military intervention in the Syrian civil war.
The United States has an obligation to think through the consequences of any U.S. military move in Syria and be honest about potential long-term commitments, he added.
His comments were the latest indication that, while President Barack Obama’s administration continues to plan for various scenarios in Syria, it remains wary of an intervention that could mire America in a proxy war.
“You better be damn sure, as sure as you can be, before you get into something. Because once you’re into it, there isn’t any backing out, whether it’s a no-fly zone, safe zone ... whatever it is,” Reuters quoted Hagel as saying to senators.
“Once you’re in, you can’t unwind it. You can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s not going as well as I thought it would go so we’re gonna get out.’”
Hagel said the fresh troops will replace a similar contingent of U.S. forces that have been in Jordan for some months. They will also provide leadership personnel that could command additional forces if it’s determined they are needed in the future.
“Currently, the U.S. forces assisting Jordan are troops pulled from various units and places,” The Associated Press quoted Hagel as saying in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Syria’s two-year conflict that started as protests against President Bashar al-Assad has morphed into a civil war, killing at least 70,000 people, and forcing more than one million refugees to flee their homes.
Jordan confirms U.S. dispatch
In Jordan, Information Minister Mohammed Momani confirmed that they would receive 200 American troops as it struggles with an influx of Syrian refugees and tension on its border with the war-torn country.
“They will be here to bolster our training and defense capabilities in light of the deterioration in Syria,” Momani told The Associated Press.
He said dispatching American forces to the kingdom was “coordinated” with the Jordanian government.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last year had favored the idea of arming Syrian rebels, as did Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, and the heads of the CIA and State Department.
But Obama decided against it. On Wednesday Dempsey said the current opposition presents an even more confusing picture than it did six months ago.
“We have seen the emergence of Jabhat al-Nusra ... and I’m more concerned than I was before” about the prospect of arming the rebels, he told senior members of the Armed Services Committee about efforts to force out Assad.
Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, has emerged as the most effective force among the mosaic of rebel units fighting to topple Assad.
When pressed whether he would still favor arming rebels, he said: “If we could clearly identify the right people, I would support it.”
Dempsey also raised the specter of hindering the humanitarian effort if the U.S. provides weapons to the rebels.
Hagel and Dempsey said they met with Obama at the White House on Tuesday and discussed Syria, though they made clear they have not made any specific recommendations on likely steps.
“We’re committed to trying to find the best way out of this,” Hagel said.
No comment on chemical weapons
Meanwhile, Hagel declined to discuss Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons against rebels, raising doubts over whether Washington still views such action as a “red line.”
Obama has repeatedly warned Damascus against resorting to chemical weapons, hinting that the use of such arms or the prospect of militant groups gaining control of them could prompt a U.S. military intervention.
When asked direct questions by senators as to whether Syria has fired chemical weapons, both Hagel and Dempsey sidestepped the sensitive issue.
They told lawmakers the U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, would likely address their queries behind closed doors Thursday.
“Our intelligence agencies are going into more detail on what we know and what we don’t know,” Hagel said.