ADANA/KAHRAMANMARAS, Turkey – Syria’s shelling last year of the Turkish-Syrian border town of Akcakale killed five people, sparking Turkey to activate the military defense provision of NATO. As a member, Turkey is guaranteed military assistance from other members of the international body. Three countries: Germany, the US and the Netherlands – with the expertise to protect Turkey against Syrian scud and ballistic missiles – set up Patriot anti-missile systems in southeastern Turkey. The Jerusalem Post toured in late September the German and Dutch Patriot sites.

It is not the first time Dutch troops manned Patriots in the Middle East. During the 1991 Gulf War, the US and Dutch specialists deployed and operated Patriots to intercept former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s scud missiles targeting Israel.

Jurriaan Matthias Esser, a spokesman for the Dutch Patriot site, told the Post that the mission is “to defend the city of Adana from ballistic attacks.” He notes that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has scud and ballistic missiles.

Esser said the Netherlands “wants to send a clear message as the Dutch government and NATO of deterrence” and show “international solidarity with our Turkish allies.”

He added that Dutch Patriots intercepts missiles at a higher air range. The Turkish defense capability has systems for lower air level attacks. The Dutch operate two active Patriots in Adana.

The Dutch contingent is responsible for the defense of roughly two million Turks in the city of Adana. A Dutch Patriot specialist told the Post that the missile interception system is comparable to “throwing a dart against a dart at 3,000 miles.”

The Dutch forces have over two decades experience operating Patriots. When asked about the interception capability, a Dutch solider said, “It can catch a lot.” Over 300 Dutch soldiers are based at the Adana military base.

Highly trained Dutch soldiers monitor Turkish and Syrian airspace on the “scope” to detect any incoming projectiles. The “scopes” show Syrian cities, including the city of Aleppo, where Assad has used missiles to target civilians and rebels. The airspace is observed 24 hours a day divided into two 12 hours shifts. Early warning systems provide additional protection about the launch of possible Syrian ballistic missiles into Turkey.

Peter Koning, the commander of the Dutch Patriot base, told the Post that the current Patriot system, when contrasted to Patriots in 1991, is comparing “a VW [Volkswagon] with a Rolls Royce.”

Koning, a veteran expert in the usage of Patriots, said “peace in the region is what everybody wants.”

Syria’s regime has not launched missiles or mortar shells since the deployment of the Patriots.

Frank Sarach, a spokesman for the German contingent in Kahramanmaras, told the Post that the Bundeswehr’s (Germany’s armed forces) mission is “to protect the 500,000 people” in the city of Kahramanmaras from “possible ballistic missiles” fired from Syria’s government. He said the entire NATO Patriots are protecting the airspace for “three million people in Adana, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras and a total of six million in the entire region.”

The 300 German troops on the Turkish military base arrived in January.

The German mission is comprised of two Patriots and six launching stations to intercept possible Syrian missiles. Syria’s regime is widely believed to have an arsenal of more than 1,000 rockets with a range of up to 700 kilometers. The German Patriot site contains the PAC-3 system.

It is a “hit to kill by missiles” operation, said one of the highly specialized German soldiers.

The operation is manned by radar and communication specialists. Highly disciplined soldiers work 12 hour shifts, analyzing all movement in Syrian airspace. The city of Aleppo is on clear display on the monitors in the Patriot Engagement Control Center. The commander of the base Bernd Stöckmann said the goal is to counter any threat in the Kahramanmaras airsprace emanating from Syria.

He said the Turkish government “invited” the NATO contingent and there has been “excellent work” with the Turkish partner. When asked about the reception among the Turkish population in Kahramanmaras, he said a “poll showed two thirds of the population in favor” of the Patriot mission and a growing approval since a local paper conducted the poll.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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