(BRUSSELS) — In Brussels, Defense Secretary Panetta confirmed that a U.S. military task force of 150 personnel has been operating in Jordan helping that country set up a headquarters to assist with the humanitarian fallout from Syria as well as any other possibilities that might emerge.
“We have a group of our forces there working to help build a headquarters there and to insure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all the possible consequences of what’s happening in Syria,” Panetta said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about a New York Times report that first broke the existence of the task force.
Two U.S. officials say teams of military personnel arrived earlier this year and said reports saying the force had anything to do with troops left behind from an annual U.S.-Jordanian military exercise conducted in May are incorrect.
They are located at a Jordanian base north of Amman and are helping Jordan plan for the estimated 200,000 Syrian refugees that have flooded into the country to escape the fighting in Syria.
A Defense Department spokesman says, “We have been working closely with our Jordanian partners on a variety of issues related to Syria for some time now. We both agree that increased cooperation and more detailed planning are necessary in order to respond to the severe consequences of the Assad regime’s brutality.”
He adds that the refugees are a specific concern as is “the security of Syria’s CBW stockpiles. As you know, we plan for a variety of contingencies, both unilaterally and with our regional partners.”
The spokesman said “as far as support to Jordan, we have provided medical kits, water tanks, and other forms of humanitarian aid to help Jordanians assist Syrian refugees fleeing into their country.”
He finished up by saying, “As we’ve seen over the last week with the situation on the Syria-Turkey border, there are various scenarios in which the Assad regime’s reprehensible actions could affect our partners in the region. For this reason and many others, we are always working on our contingency planning, for which we consult with our friends. “
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN