President Barack Obama notified Congress yesterday that 700 U.S. military personnel are staying behind in Jordan after a training exercise to support the detachment of F-16 fighter aircraft and Patriot missiles.
The training exercise, called Eager Lion, ended June 20, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week approved a request from Jordan for the planes and missiles to remain. Jordan borders Syria, where rebels are trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While Obama has agreed to send light weapons to bolster Assad’s opponents, he has said repeatedly that he doesn’t plan to send U.S. combat troops into Syria. The U.S. has been considering “all options, barring boots on the ground,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing June 13.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said the U.S. was working “very carefully and very deliberately” to make certain that American assistance doesn’t wind up arming Syrian rebels with links to terrorist organizations.
“We want to make sure that extremists on any side of this equation are not empowered as we work toward a political transition,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
Syria’s civil war has killed more than 93,000 people and driven more than 1.5 million refugees into neighboring countries, including Jordan. The U.S. has said there is evidence Assad used chemical weapons on a “small scale” against the rebels.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet today in Doha, Qatar, with foreign ministers from 10 other countries backing the Syrian opposition. Some, such as Saudi Arabia and France, have pushed to provide greater firepower to rebels who say they need anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.