By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
In a move that could send small numbers of U.S. military trainers back to Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has asked his top Middle East commander to look at ways the United States could boost military sales, assistance and training in that country as well as in Lebanon and Jordan as Syria's civil war continues to affect its neighbors.
Any deployment of U.S. forces would have to have those countries' approval, and so far there is no indication that Iraq or Lebanon would agree to accept U.S. troops.
Dempsey has asked Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, to look at options for small, limited deployments in recent weeks, according to Col. Edward Thomas, a Dempsey spokesman. "It's in the realm of the possible," that a decision could be made to offer to send training teams back into Iraq, which would be the first significant deployment since the United States withdrew from that country in 2011.
Dempsey first hinted of the plan during a Wednesday Pentagon news conference when he was asked about the spillover from Syria's civil war.
"We've made a recommendation that as we look at the challenges faced by the Lebanese armed forces, the Iraqi security forces with a re-emerging al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Jordanians, that we would work with them to help them build additional capability," he said. Al Qaeda fighters, including those of the al-Nusra front, have been crossing into Syria from Iraq. There is also concern that the recent rise in al Qaeda attacks inside Iraq is adding to regional instability.
The chairman also strongly emphasized that his recommended involvement for the United States would be very limited.
"I'm talking about teams of trainers, and I'm talking about accelerating foreign military sales for equipment for them. This is about building their capability, not ours."
Military training teams generally consist of no more than a few dozen troops who work with host country military units on specific skills such as border security or counterterrorism. The United States could also send the same type of limited military gear it has sold to countries such as Lebanon in the past, including small arms, night-vision equipment and some armored vehicles, military officials say.
The proposal comes to light as fighting has spilled into Lebanon and as the United States has grown more concerned about stability there, according to a senior U.S. military official. Eastern Lebanon has become a staging ground for Hezbollah forces moving in and out of Syria.
The United States now has about 700 troops in Jordan, conducting training and staffing a Patriot missile battery and a detachment of F-16 fighters to defend Jordan if fighting spreads.