By Barbara Starr
In a critical indication of growing U.S. military involvement in the civil war in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the deployment of more American troops to Jordan.
Hagel announced the deployment, which was first reported on CNN, in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
He said the troops will work alongside Jordanian forces to "improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios."
The troops, which will number up to 200, are from the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, two Defense Department officials told CNN.
The deployment "creates an additional capability" beyond what has been there, one official said, and will give the United States the ability to "potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered."
The new deployment will include communications and intelligence specialists who will assist the Jordanians and "be ready for military action" if President Barack Obama were to order it, the official said.
There have been several dozen American troops, mainly special forces, in Jordan for the past year assisting the Jordanians.
But that group has been very ad hoc, the official said. This new deployment makes the U.S. military presence more official and is the first formalized ongoing presence of an American military unit in the Kingdom in recent years.
This comes as the Pentagon has recently reviewed military options for Syria although Obama has not ordered any to be put into action.
Hagel cautioned lawmakers about the difficulties surrounding any direct U.S. military action in Syria.
"It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment," he said.
He called military intervention "an option, but an option of last resort."
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States could send troops to Syria if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad fell to rebels, if needed, to secure the country's chemical weapons cache.
But when asked if he was confident the United States could secure them, Dempsey said, "Not as I sit here today simply because they have been moving it, and the number of sites is quite numerous."