"We have a group of our forces there working to help build a headquarters there and to insure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all the possible consequences of what's happening in Syria," Panetta said.
In Jordan, the biggest problem at the moment seems to be the strain put on the country's meager resources by the estimated 200,000 Syrian refugees who have flooded across the border — the largest number fleeing to any country.
Several dozen refugees in Jordan rioted in their desert border camp of Zaatari earlier this month, destroying tents and medicine and leaving scores of refugee families out in the night cold.
Jordanian men also are moving the other way across the border, joining what intelligence officials have estimated to be around 2,000 foreigners fighting alongside Syrian rebels trying to topple Assad. A Jordanian border guard was wounded after armed men — believed trying to go fight — exchanged gunfire at the northern frontier.
Turkey has reinforced its border with artillery and deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region after an errant Syrian mortar shell killed five people in a Turkish border town last week and Turkey retaliated with artillery strikes.
Turkey's military chief, Gen. Necdet Ozel, vowed Wednesday to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington on Wednesday that the Pentagon was planning for "a number of contingencies" and was prepared to provide the administration with options on Syria, if needed.
"But the military instrument of power at this point is not the prominent instrument of power that should be applied in Syria," he said.
Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.
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