AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan on Wednesday asked the United States to provide manned U.S. surveillance aircraft to help keep an eye on its border with Syria, the top U.S. military officer said, as the kingdom struggles to contain fallout from Syria’s civil war.
The request came during a visit by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and would further bolster the U.S. military support to Jordan after U.S. decisions to station F-16 aircraft and Patriot missiles there.
“Here in Jordan, in particular, they’re interested in what we can do to help them see and secure their very long border with Syria,” Dempsey said, adding the Jordan also sought help better integrating different sources of intelligence.
Dempsey said he had been asking what else the United States could do to better support Jordan, a key ally, and the manned “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” (ISR) aircraft were among the items discussed.
“There’s a process that we have for those kind of formal requests and I’ll take it back with me to Washington,” he said.
Jordan is Dempsey’s second and last stop on a trip to the Middle East that began on Monday in Israel. It came at a delicate moment for the two close U.S. allies, who are grappling with the implications of potentially long-term regional unrest stemming from Syria’s conflict and bloody political upheaval in Egypt, which overshadowed Dempsey’s trip to Amman.
Jordan is reeling from an influx of more than a half a million refugees from Syria, straining stretched state resources and drawing appeals to the international community for help. Dempsey said that issue also came up on Wednesday.
Amid U.S. debate about the merits of any direct military intervention in Syria, Dempsey said that question was not even raised in his discussions in Amman, where he met King Abdullah and his Jordanian counterpart.
“We didn’t talk about direct military intervention. That actually never came up,” he said. “What did come up was discussions about what we could do to help them build their capability and capacity.”
During his Middle East trip, Dempsey has expressed concern about radical elements of the Syrian opposition and stressed the role of regional allies including Jordan in helping identify moderates.
Syria’s Western-backed rebels have been clamouring for the United States to make good on promises to provide weapons to bolster their battle against Assad’s forces. But the Obama administration has been slow to act because of concerns that American arms could find their way to al Qaeda-linked fighters.
Dempsey also said the question of U.S. lethal support to the Syrian rebels did not come up in his talks in Amman.
He said allies in the region understood the complexities of the Syrian conflict.
“What the people who live in the region very clearly see is that this is not about choosing one side or the other. It’s about choosing potentially one side amongst several others,” he said. “So I think it’s that degree to which the complexity becomes clearer the closer you get to it.”
Dempsey again expressed interest in bolstering Iraq as it grapples with al Qaeda militants, telling reporters about the possibility of some limited U.S. counter-terrorism training.
“If they (the Iraqis) chose to do it ... I’m talking about a very, very small footprint of U.S. experts,” he said.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman