Turkish Foreign Ministry officials have categorically denied media reports suggesting that Washington has special forces stationed close to the Syrian border in Turkey, a day after Washington confirmed that the U.S. was helping Turkey on humanitarian and weapons issues.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, sources denied the claim of British daily The Times that U.S. and French special forces had been at İncirlik airbase in southern Turkey for weeks.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed on Oct. 10 that Washington had reached out to Turkey on humanitarian, as well as chemical and biological weapons issues: “They’re obviously concerned about the chemical and biological sites as well, so we’ve worked with them to do what we can to monitor that situation.”
Panetta also said U.S. military planners were in Jordan to help Amman grapple with Syrian refugees, bolster its military capabilities and prepare for any trouble with Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
“We have been working with Jordan for a period of time now … on a number of the issues that have developed as a result of what’s happened in Syria,” Reuters quoted Panetta as saying in Brussels.
The defense chief said those issues included monitoring chemical weapons sites “to determine how best to respond to any concerns in that area.” About 150 U.S. troops, largely Army special operations forces, are working out of a military center near Amman, two senior defense officials said on condition of anonymity.
The troops have moved back and forth to the Syrian border as part of their work, which includes joint planning and intelligence gathering, one official said. A second U.S. official said the small team of planners was not engaged in covert operations and had been housed at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, north of the capital, Amman, since the early summer. Earlier in the day, Jordan’s military had denied the U.S. military was helping the kingdom. While the U.S. has not intervened militarily in Syria, President Barack Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that any attempt to deploy or use chemical or biological weapons would cross a “red line” that could provoke U.S. action.
Late last month, Panetta said Syria had moved some of its chemical weapons stocks to better secure them but added that the country’s main chemical weapons sites remained intact and secure under government control.