US will deploy its troops in Jordan to help the country defend their border with Syria and to counter the threat of chemical weapons from the Assad regime, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has said.
"Since last year a small team of US military experts has been working in Jordan on planning related to chemical weapons and preventing a spillover of violence across Jordan's borders. Last week I ordered the deployment of a US Army headquarters element to enhance this effort in Amman," Hagel told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing.
"These personnel will continue to work alongside the Jordanian Armed Forces to improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios," he said.
Hagel said the US is also working closely with other Syrian neighbours, including Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, to help them counter the threat from Syria's chemical weapons.
As part of this effort, the Pentagon is funding over $70 million for activities in Jordan, including providing training and equipment to detect and stop any chemical weapons transfers along its border with Syria and developing Jordanian capacity to identify and secure chemical weapons assets.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has made clear that if Assad and those under his command use chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, there will be consequences, and they will be held accountable.
"The Department of Defence has plans in place to respond to the full range of chemical weapons scenarios," he said.
Hagel added that the US military is constantly updating and adjusting tactical military planning to account for the rapidly shifting situation on the ground and to prepare for additional new contingencies, not only those associated with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons but also the potential spillover of violence across Syria's borders that could threaten allies and partners.
Noting that the US is developing a post-Assad plan, Hagel said the reality is that this is a complex and difficult situation.
"The killing of innocents by the Syrian regime is tragic. The Assad regime is intent on maintaining power, the conflict within Syria has developed along dangerous sectarian lines, and the opposition has not yet sufficiently organized itself politically or militarily," he said.
Hagel said, the goal is "to support broader US diplomatic efforts while ensuring that the US military is fully prepared to protect America's interests and meet our security commitments in the region."
"We have an obligation and responsibility to think through the consequences of any direct US military action in Syria. Military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian relief operations. It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy and uncertain military commitment," he said.
"Unilateral military action could strain other key international partnerships, as no international or regional consensus on supporting armed intervention now exists.
He added that a military intervention could have the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war.
"Military intervention is always an option, should be an option, but an option of last resort. The best outcome for Syria and the region is a negotiated, political transition to a post-Assad Syria," the Defense Secretary said.