By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today the deployment of an Army headquarters element to help Jordanian forces defend their border with Syria, while warning Congress of potential consequences of direct U.S. military action in the Syrian conflict.
Hagel joined Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, in reporting to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he ordered the Army deployment last week.
The contingent will enhance efforts of a small U.S. military team that has been working in Jordan since last year on planning related to chemical weapons and preventing a spillover of violence across Jordan’s borders, the secretary told the Senate panel.
“These personnel will continue to work alongside Jordanian Armed Forces to improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios,” he said.
Defense Department personnel and their interagency partners are helping Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and other Syrian neighbors counter the threat posed by Syria’s chemical weapons, Hagel said. He noted that DOD deployed Patriot missile batteries to southern Turkey in December as part of NATO’s mission to help Turkey protect its border with Syria.
These initiatives, being conducted through the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, include more than $70 million for activities in Jordan, he reported. This includes training and equipment to detect and stop chemical weapons transfers along Jordan’s border with Syria, and developing Jordan’s capacity to identify and secure chemical weapons assets.
Meanwhile, DOD has expanded security consultations regarding Syria with allies and partners, ensured that the U.S. military is strategically postured in the region and “engaged in robust military planning for a range of contingencies,” Hagel said.
Regional security efforts will be a key focus of his trip later this week to meet with defense leaders of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Hagel said. The situation in Syria also will be a topic when Secretary of State John F. Kerry visits Turkey this weekend and during Dempsey’s trip to China next week for talks with Chinese leaders.
The goal, Hagel said, is “to support broader U.S. diplomatic efforts while ensuring that the U.S. military is fully prepared to protect America’s interests and meet our security commitments in the region.”
Hagel spelled out U.S. government policy regarding the Syrian conflict:
-- To work with allies and partners, as well as the Syrian opposition;
-- To provide humanitarian assistance across Syria and the region;
-- To hasten an end to the violence; and
-- To bring about a political transition to a post-Assad authority that will restore stability, respect for the rights of all people, prevent Syria from becoming an extremist safe haven and to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.
“The best outcome for Syria -- and the region -- is a negotiated, political transition,” Hagel told the senators.
Toward that end, the U.S. government is working to mobilize the international community, further isolate the Assad regime and support the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the moderate Syrian opposition, he said.
The U.S. has committed $117 million to the coalition in nonlethal assistance such as communications and medical equipment, Hagel said, and President Barack Obama has directed more for both the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Supreme Military Council.
In addition, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development are providing technical assistance and training for Syrian leaders and activists.
“The goal is to strengthen those opposition groups that share the international community’s vision for Syria’s future and minimize the influence of extremists,” Hagel said.
Meanwhile, the United States has provided $385 million to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Syria and to help more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, he said.
The United States is rallying the international community, including Russia and China, to provide humanitarian support and resolve the crisis, Hagel said. He reported that international sanctions designed to pressure the Syrian government and help end the conflict are having an impact on the Assad regime’s finances.
In addition, DOD has engaged in robust military planning for a range of contingencies, he said.
“President Obama has made clear that if Assad and those under his command use chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, there will be consequences, and they will be held accountable,” Hagel said. “The Department of Defense has plans in place to respond to the full range of chemical weapons scenarios.”
So even as it provides options and planning for a post-Assad Syria, Hagel said, DOD is providing Obama and Congress regular assessments of options for U.S. military intervention.
He warned, however, of possible consequences of direct U.S. military action in Syria. It could hinder humanitarian relief operations, embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy and uncertain military commitment, and, if conducted unilaterally, strain U.S. relationships around the world, the secretary told the senators.
“And finally, a military intervention could have the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war,” he said.
Dempsey echoed Hagel, emphasizing that although the military stands ready to provide force, if directed, that such a decision is one no one takes lightly.
“In weighing options, we have a responsibility to align the use of force to the intended outcome,” Dempsey said. “We also have a responsibility to articulate risk” -- not just to U.S. forces, but to other security responsibilities that could be compromised.
“So before we take action, we have to be prepared for what comes next,” the chairman said. “The use of force, especially in circumstances where ethnic and religious factors dominate, is unlikely to produce predictable outcomes. … Unintended consequences are the rule with military interventions of this sort.”
“Military intervention is always an option, but an option of last resort,” Hagel summarized. “The best outcome for Syria -- and the region -- is a negotiated, political transition to a post-Assad Syria.”