Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hagel: U.S. Sending Army Planners to Jordan Group Will Help Border Security; No Military Action

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hagel: U.S. Sending Army Planners to Jordan Group Will Help Border Security; No Military Action

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is sending about 200 soldiers from an Army headquarters unit to Jordan to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress Wednesday.

The decision to dispatch the 1st Armored Division troops of planners and specialists in intelligence, logistics and operations comes as several lawmakers pressed the Obama administration for even more aggressive steps to end the two-year civil war.

Mr. Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced persistent questions from senior members of the Armed Services Committee about efforts to force out Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Pentagon leaders made clear that the situation is extremely complicated, and they must be certain of the endgame before any military step to try to end the bloodshed.

"You better be damned sure. No-fly zone, safe zone. Once you're in, you can't unwind it," Mr. Hagel said.

Gen. Dempsey said he has spent a significant portion of his adult life trying to figure out the Mideast. "This is the toughest of all," he said.

Mr. Hagel said the fresh troops will replace a similar number of U.S. forces that have been in Jordan for some months. They also will provide leadership personnel that could command additional forces if it's determined that they are needed in the future.

"Currently, the U.S. forces assisting Jordan now are troops pulled from various units and places," Mr. Hagel said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said sending a unit that has already served together improves its ability to work as a team. The unit is based at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Two years of civil war pitting the forces of Mr. Assad against his foes has killed an estimated 70,000 people, forced more than 1 million refugees to flee their homes and stretched the resources of neighboring nations.

In Jordan, Information Minister Mohammed Momani confirmed that they would receive 200 U.S. troops as it struggles with the Syrian civil war to its north. "They will be here to bolster our training and defense capabilities in light of the deterioration in Syria," Mr. Momani said in an interview. He said dispatching U.S. forces to the kingdom was "coordinated" with the Jordanian government.

Mr. Hagel's announcement comes ahead of his trip next week to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Separately, Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to Turkey and Gen. Dempsey will visit China to discuss the situation in Syria.

President Barack Obama has insisted that Mr. Assad must go, but has cautioned about sending military assistance to Syrian opposition forces, which could extend the fighting and unintentionally put weapons in the hands of Islamic extremists. …

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