U.S. to send troops, mis­siles

Ger­many, Hol­land also send­ing forces, bat­ter­ies to Turkey for de­fen­sive role.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Robert Burns

IN­CIR­LIK AIR BASE, TuRKEy — The U.S. will send two bat­ter­ies of Pa­triot mis­siles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to pro­tect Turk­ish ter­ri­tory from a po­ten­tial Syr­ian mis­sile at­tack, the Pen­tagon said Fri­day.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta signed a de­ploy­ment or­der en route to Turkey from Afghanistan call­ing for 400 U.S. sol­diers to op­er­ate two bat­ter­ies of Pa­tri­ots at undis­closed lo­ca­tions in Turkey, Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Ge­orge Lit­tle told re­porters fly­ing with Panetta.

Ger­many and the Nether­lands have al­ready agreed to pro­vide two bat­ter­ies of the U.S.-built de­fense sys­tems and send up to 400 Ger­man and 360 Dutch troops to man them, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of Pa­triot bat­ter­ies slated for Turkey to six.

Ger­man law­mak­ers voted 461-86 Fri­day to ap­prove the de­ploy­ment of two Pa­triot mis­sile bat­ter­ies. The man­date lets Ger­many de­ploy up to 400 sol­diers through Jan­uary 2014. NATO for­eign min­is­ters en­dorsed Turkey’s re­quest for the Pa­tri­ots on Nov. 30.

A num­ber of Syr­ian shells have landed in Turk­ish ter­ri­tory since the con­flict in the Arab state be­gan in March 2011. Turkey has con­demned the Syr­ian regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, sup­ported Syr­ian rebels and pro­vided shel­ter to Syr­ian refugees. Ankara is par­tic­u­larly wor­ried that As­sad may get des­per­ate enough to use chem­i­cal weapons.

Dur­ing a brief stop at In­cir­lik Air Base in Turkey, Panetta told U.S. troops that Turkey might need the Pa­tri­ots, which are ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing down shorter-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles and air­craft.

He said he ap­proved the de­ploy­ment “so that we can help Turkey have the kind of mis­sile de­fense it may very well need to deal with the threats coming out of Syria,” he said.

The U.S., Ger­many and the Nether­lands are the only NATO mem­bers who have the up­graded PAC-3 mis­siles, ca­pa­ble of mis­sile in­ter­cep­tion. Each bat­tery has an av­er­age of 12 mis­sile launch­ers, a NATO of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause al­liance reg­u­la­tions do not al­low him to speak on the record.

In a state­ment is­sued Fri­day NATO spokes­woman Oana Lungescu said “the de­ploy­ment will be de­fen­sive only.”

“It will not sup­port a no-fly zone or any of­fen­sive op­er­a­tion. Its aim is to de­ter any threats to Turkey, to de­fend Turkey’s pop­u­la­tion and ter- ri­tory and to de-es­ca­late the cri­sis on NATO’s south-east­ern bor­der,” Lungescu said.

Panetta did not men­tion how soon the two Pa­triot bat­ter­ies will head to Turkey or how long they might stay.

At In­cir­lik Air Base, about 60 miles north of the Syr­ian bor­der, an Air Force mem­ber asked Panetta what the US would do if Syria used chem­i­cal or bi­o­log­i­cal weapons against the rebels. Panetta said he could not be spe­cific in a pub­lic set­ting, but added, “we have drawn up plans” that give Pres­i­dent Barack Obama a set of op­tions in the event that U.S. in­tel­li­gence shows that Syria in­tends to use such weapons.

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