WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress today that 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.
The 1st Armored Division troops are largely planners and will replace a similar number of U.S. forces that have been in Jordan for some months. They will include specialists in intelligence, logistics and operations.
Sending a cohesive headquarters unit will enhance the troops’ ability to respond to any security needs, and will provide leadership personnel that could command additional forces if it’s determined they are needed in the future.
“Currently, the U.S. forces assisting Jordan now are troops pulled from various units and places,” Hagel said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said that 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 President Bashar Assad against his foes has killed an estimated 70,000 people and forced more than 1 million refugees to flee their homes.
President Obama has insisted that 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.
Obama has made clear that Assad would cross a red line if he were to use his suspected stockpile of chemical weapons — including nerve agents and mustard gas — against the Syrian people.