US troops begin to arrive at Turkey-Syria border

A Syrian girl rides her bicycle in an almost deserted street in the Teshrin neighborhood of the Qabun area in Damascus on January 3, 2013. US troops began arriving in Turkey to man Patriot missile batteries at Turkey's border with Syria where the 21-month conflict between the regime and rebels has escalated. (Photo: AFP)

Published Saturday, January 5, 2013

US soldiers who will man Patriot anti-missile batteries along the Turkish-Syrian border began arriving in the area on Friday, the US military said, but the missiles themselves are due later.

Turkey formally asked NATO for the missiles in November to bolster security along its 900-km border with Syria, which has been torn by a 21-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Germany and the Netherlands are also providing two Patriot batteries and up to 400 troops each.

The German and Dutch missiles are expected to be loaded onto ships in European ports early next week but will take several weeks to get to Turkey.

A small advance team of German and Dutch soldiers will also fly to Turkey early next week to prepare the ground for the Patriots, with the bulk of the troops arriving later.

Turkey repeatedly has scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind when Syrian shells came down inside its borders, fanning fears that the civil war could spread to destablize the region.

About 400 US personnel and equipment from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, based at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, will arrive in Turkey over the next several days by US military airlift, the US European Command said on its website.

No US Patriot missiles arrived on Friday, however, according to a military source, and it will be several weeks before the missiles, supplied by Germany and the Netherlands, get to Turkey.

The US troops, who began arriving at Incirlik air base in Turkey, will man two US Patriot batteries out of a total of six batteries that have been promised by NATO allies.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the first US military personnel belonging to the Patriot unit began arriving in Turkey on Friday and more will arrive over the coming days.

The equipment would start arriving a few days later, with the aim of having the U.S. Patriot batteries in place by mid-January, she said.

NATO foreign ministers approved Turkey's request for the Patriot deployment in early December. The alliance said the move was aimed at defending Turkey and it had no intention of intervening in the Syrian civil war, but Syria, Iran and Russia criticised the decision.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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