Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the Pentagon has ordered 200 soldiers to be deployed to Jordan in light of the deteriorating situation in neighboring Syria. The move is not the first instance of the deployment of U.S. personnel in Jordan to address the Syrian issue. Reports have indicated previous deployment of U.S. Special Forces as part of a joint U.S.-Jordanian effort to train ‘moderate’ elements of the anti-Assad rebels. While the relatively small deployment will not be mistaken for the preparation for U.S. military intervention in the conflict, it certainly publicly boosts the U.S. military presence in the immediate area surrounding Syria. More than anything, it is an indication of the worsening conditions in Syria and the fear of a wider regional conflict.
The deployment is directly related to the fears that the fighting in Syria could destabilize the entire region. The Syrian Civil War quickly deteriorated into a sectarian conflict, predictably seeping into Lebanon and threatening to carry over into Iraq. An anti-government insurgent group, the Al-Nusra Front recently made headlines when an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq announced their merger with the Syrian group. In a bizarre statement, al-Nusra shrugged off the merger announcement and affirmed their allegiance to AQ Central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, which might actually be worse.
The administration has been under pressure to ‘do something’ about the Syrian conflict for the past two year even if though there are really no great options. The deployment includes both intelligence and communications specialists and according to one official could ‘form a joint task force for military operations,’ if needed. It is also coordinating contingency planning with the Jordanians in the case of a widening conflict, regime collapse, or even the use of chemical weapons by the regime. With limited options, the Pentagon has positioned themselves to both be able to respond to a potential crisis and reassure an important regional ally. Much like the deployment of Patriot Missiles in Turkey, reassurance are essential considering 500,000 Jordanian refugees having the Jordanian border and have been called a threat to its national security,
While some will cry foul following the deployment of logistical and intelligence support by the U.S. military near the Jordanian border, there are very real humanitarian concerns facing all Syrians. For one, a buffer zone in or near rebel controlled zones could guarantee humanitarian access to refugees and a safe haven for anyone the regime may target. A joint U.S.-Jordanian effort could potentially help create this. Conversely, if the regime were to fall as all indications are that there is a very real possibility that Syrian Alawites could be a target for genocide by some Sunni anti-government elements.
In the end, the deployment is not an indicator that the United States is ready to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict. In fact, Hagel has made it clear that he is vehemently opposed to such an action. However, it is an important undertaking in order to reassure regional allies and be ready to react to changing circumstances. Whether the Assad regime falls or continues to fight on, the U.S. must be ready the instability this could potentially create across the region.