The US will keep Patriot missile batteries and F-16 fighter jets in Jordan after the completion of joint military exercises this month amid the crisis in neighboring Syria, the Pentagon said on Saturday.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel “has approved a request from the Kingdom of Jordan for a detachment of F-16s and Patriot Missiles to remain in Jordan following the conclusion of the Eager Lion Exercise next week,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
“All other US personnel assigned to Jordan for Eager Lion will depart at the conclusion of the exercise. The United States enjoys a longstanding partnership with Jordan and is committed to its defense,” Little added.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are fighting insurgents in a two-year-old civil war.
Patriot missiles could be used to protect US ally Jordan against any possible missile attack as the Syrian war threatens to widen into a more regional, sectarian conflict. Jordan and Syria’s other neighbors are increasingly nervous the Syrian civil war will spill over its borders.
A US official said earlier this month that the Eager Lion exercises — held annually with a theme of irregular warfare — include more than 8,000 service members from about 19 countries, running from June 9 to Thursday.
The decision to send Patriot missiles to Jordan has been particularly controversial for Russia, al-Assad’s main global ally, which believes the missiles could be used by the US and its allies to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, heralding the first direct Western military intervention in the conflict.
US President Barack Obama is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today at a G8 conference in Northern Ireland to discuss the Syria situation.
Jordan on June 6 threatened to expel Syria’s ambassador after he warned the Jordanians that Syrian missiles could be used against the Patriot missile batteries.
Hagel said in April that Washington was dispatching US Army planners to Jordan, bolstering efforts started last year to plan for contingencies related to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and to prevent a spillover of violence across Jordan’s border. A US official said at the time that about 200 US personnel would be involved.
Accusing al-Assad’s forces of using chemical weapons, the White House on Thursday said it would supply direct military assistance to the rebels. The weapons will ikely include rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, sources said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statememt on Saturday that “the use of chemical weapons and increasing involvement of Hezbollah demonstrates the [Syrian] regime’s lack of commitment to negotiations and threatens to put a political settlement out of reach.”
It was the first time the US sounded so downbeat about prospects for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. Washington has been planning peace talks with Russia and the UN since last month.