The US military secretly sent a task force of over 150 specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there deal with the flood of refugees, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The task force is reportedly led by a senior American officer and based north of Amman. According to the Times, their activity is largely focused on helping Jordan handle an estimated 180,000 Syrian refugees who crossed the border.
However, the specialists were also enlisted for military protection, to draw up a strategy to avoid border clashes such as those occurring along the Turkish border with Syria, as well as to help prepare Jordan for the possibility that Syria may lose control of its chemical weapons, the Times reported.
One such strategy posited by the task force is to establish a buffer zone between Syria and Jordan, to be enforced by the Jordanian military and backed logistically by the United States. However, the Times reported, the buffer is a contingency plan.
Thus far, neither officials from the Pentagon nor the Jordanian Embassy have commented on the task force.
According to the United Nations, Jordan is currently hosting around 100,000 Syrians who have either registered or are awaiting registration. American officials say the total number may be almost twice that.
“This crisis is beyond the resources that are being extended by us or the efforts of the UNHCR or other humanitarian bodies,” said Jordanian Minister of State for Information Samih Maaytah. “It needs an international program and response,” the cabinet minister told Reuters in August.
As the war between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad intensifies, more refugees have been spilling out of Syria, usually moving by night. The greatest movement is often on nights when there is a minimum of moonlight, because brighter evenings make it harder for people to move without being seen – and Syrians trying to escape have often been shot at or shelled, UN officials say.
Jordanian officials, together with the UN, put up the Za’atri camp in the northern part of the kingdom but are finding that even more refugees than anticipated are flooding across the border.
Ilene Prusher contributed to this report.