ADANA, Turkey - The first of six Patriot missile batteries
being sent by NATO countries to defend Turkey from possible attack from Syria
went operational on Saturday.
The United States, Germany and the
Netherlands are each sending two batteries to Turkey and up to 400 soldiers to
operate them after Ankara asked NATO for help. The Patriots are capable of
shooting down hostile missiles in mid-air.
The frontier has become a
flashpoint in the 22-month insurgency against Syrian President Bashar Assad, with
Syrian government shells frequently landing inside Turkish territory, drawing a
response in kind from Ankara's military.
"Behind us there is the first
NATO Patriot battery in Turkey which is operational at the moment. That means
that it is up and running. It is under NATO command and control," said Polish
Army Lieutenant Colonel Dariusz Kacperczyk, NATO spokesman for the Patriot
A battery sent by the Netherlands, consisting of five missile
launchers, has been deployed next to an airport on the edge of Adana, a city of
around 1.6 million 120 km (75 miles) from the Syrian border. A second battery of
seven launchers is at a US-Turkish air base east of the city.
airport, the truck-mounted launchers were raised in the air, pointing at
"Think of it as a bullet being fired from one side and we have got
a fierce bullet that shoots down the other bullet," said Lieutenant-Colonel
Marcel Buis, commander of the Dutch Patriots.
The batteries are being
stationed around three southeastern Turkish cities and NATO says they will
protect 3.5 million Turks from missile attack. All are expected to be in place
and operational by the end of January.
Tensions have increased in recent
weeks after NATO said it had detected launches of short-range ballistic missiles
inside Syria, several of which have landed close to the Turkish border. Turkey
has scrambled warplanes along the frontier, fanning fears the war could spread
and further destabilize the region.
Syria has called the deployment of
the Patriot batteries "provocative" while Iran and Russia, which have supported
Syria throughout the uprising, have criticised NATO's decision, saying the
Patriot deployment would intensify the conflict.
Turkey and NATO have
strongly denied the Patriot missiles are a precursor to a no-fly zone that
Syrian rebels have been requesting to help them hold territory against a
government with overwhelming firepower from the air.
All six Patriot
batteries will be connected directly to allied air command in Ramstein,
The Ramstein command and control center receives intelligence on
missile firings in Syria and will alert the Patriot batteries to any missile
launch. The Patriot batteries will then watch the arcs of the missiles and react
if they threaten a Turkish city.