The United States will send a Patriot missile battery and F-16 fighters to Jordan for a military drill and may keep the weapons there to counter the threat posed by Syria’s civil war, officials said.
The anti-missile systems and jets were approved for deployment to Jordan as part of a joint exercise with Jordanian forces, US Central Command said in a statement on Monday.
“In order to enhance the defensive posture and capacity of Jordan, some of these assets may remain beyond the exercise at the request of the government of Jordan,” the statement said.
US officials declined to say how many F-16s would be taking part in the exercise, or how many aircraft might remain afterwards.
The US backed a similar move earlier this year in Turkey, with NATO deploying Patriot missile batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria.
That deployment came after warnings from Washington to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against shipping advanced missiles to fighters in Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shia group, which is now openly taking part in the conflict in support of Damascus.
Israel has carried out air strikes in Syria in a bid to disrupt the possible delivery of missiles to the Hezbollah movement.
The decision to possibly station F-16s and missile batteries in Jordan will fuel speculation of a potential US military intervention, which the White House so far has described as a remote possibility.
Patriot missiles are designed to shoot down Scud or other short-range missiles, known to be in the Assad regime’s arsenal.
The Pentagon has already sent about 200 troops to Jordan, including an element of a US Army headquarters, to help the country prepare for possible military action in Syria, including scenarios to secure the regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Fighting raged on Monday in Syria, with regime aircraft pounding the embattled city of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, in a three-week-old offensive backed by Hezbollah forces.