The United States has sent a task force of military officers to Jordan to help the kingdom handle a flood of Syrian refugees and deal with possible “loose” chemical weapons, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Jordan denied the report.
The newspaper said the 150-strong force of planners and specialists -- led by a senior U.S. officer -- was looking at ways to prevent the increasingly bloody Syrian civil war from spilling across Jordan's borders.
The increased presence of U.S. troops underscores concerns of the Obama administration that the civil war in Syria could spark a regional war, especially if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carries out a last-ditch operation to use chemical weapons or attack Israel.
Similarly, the flood of refugees into Jordan adds to the threat to the monarchy by the overwhelming number of descendants of Arab families who fled from Israel in the War for Independence in 1948 and the Six-Day War in 1967.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh has said that over 200,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Jordan since the uprising erupted 18 months ago, according to AFP.
Earlier this month Jordanian riot police used tear gas to disperse Syrian refugees at a camp in the north of the country who set fire to tents and destroyed property in protest at their living conditions.
The American military personnel are based at an outpost north of Amman and just 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the border, making it the closest U.S. military presence to the conflict.
The United States says it is providing non-lethal aid to the rebels but has thus far refrained from providing arms, fearing they could end up in the hands of hard-line Islamist groups taking part in the struggle, according to AFP.
President Barack Obama has warned of a broader intervention should Syria use or lose control of its chemical weapons arsenal.
The New York Times said American and Jordanian officials had discussed setting up a humanitarian buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border patrolled by Jordanian forces with U.S. support but are holding off on the idea for now.
Jordan, a longtime American ally, was an early supporter of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but, along with Washington, fears that the conflict could destabilize an already volatile region.
The Times said the U.S. task force is spending the bulk of its time helping Jordan to coordinate food, water, latrines and other basic services for the arriving refugees.